How can I help my child with their Modern Languages homework? – Mr Wilson (CHS Teacher, Modern Languages)

Modern Languages is a subject area which many conscientious parents fret about. At Parents’ Evenings we, the teachers, regularly hear things like, “I worry because I just can’t help him with his German like I can with other things.”

modern languages

Here are some thoughts on how you can help. Language learning should be viewed a little like learning an instrument; your child will need time, space and encouragement to practise regularly. Indeed, the occasional opportunity to perform will be a huge motivator too.

  1. Test them on their vocab and verb endings – there is no way around it, vocabulary needs to be learnt. There are a host of ways to learn vocab: using flash cards, sticking post-it notes around the house, grouping words by gender, listing them alphabetically or thematically, making excel spreadsheets and hiding columns.  You can test them regularly, sharing the journey to learn new words yourself and helping them find their most effective way to learn.
  1. Once they believe they have grasped the formation of a new tense, get them to teach it to you and explain how it compares in form and use to English. As well as the educational benefits associated with explanation, it will be motivating for them to hear you struggle over the pronunciation. This will help you share the journey as you are inspired to learn with them. You can follow Duolingo on your smart phone or invest in a suitable grammar book and progress with them with some healthy competition!
  1. Encourage them to speak the language as much as possible. When the question: “How was school today?” is greeted with a teenage grunt, take another approach such as: “Tell me 3 things you did at school today in French.” Get them to tell you and confirm what they’ve said in English. Similarly, to practice the future tense, a question every Sunday evening might be: “Tell me 5 things you are going to do at school this week.”
  1. Invariably, teachers will create targets for students to work on in order to improve their next piece of work. It might be something like “To improve, check: adjective agreement, include more opinions and use more infinitive expressions.” Over tea, before your son or daughter embarks on their latest Spanish homework, ask them what the areas for improvement from last time were and how they are going to attempt to address these areas.
  1. Support smart use of resources. Before setting about a homework for Languages, students need all of their resources to hand –vocab book, dictionary (traditional or online), as well as their exercise book and course book where appropriate. You can help to promote sensible use of online dictionaries. Simply inserting lumps of text into Google Translate is not developing any linguistic skills and, invariably, it will be obvious to the teacher, either because the language is incongruent with other language produced or because the words have been translated too literally and are completely out of context. Similarly, when using an online dictionary, you can help them to realise that it is no use inserting conjugated verbs (eg. drinks), but rather you need to have the infinitive (to drink) after which they can apply the rules of conjugation learnt in lessons.
  1. Provide opportunities for them to use the language for real purposes to build confidence. This may be choosing to take your family holiday in the country where the language is spoken, spending time in places where English will be less prominent. Alternatively, it could be a family meal at an authentic restaurant where all the staff are from the country. Other creative and beneficial ways of using the language for real purposes could include sponsoring a child in Spanish-speaking Central America or Francophone African nations, through various charities, and having regular communication with this child.
  1. We are lucky to live next to a cosmopolitan city with language institutes such as the Instituto Cervantes and the Alliance Francaise, as well as art house cinemas like HOME, not to mention the Christmas markets. Attend cultural events and performances associated with your child’s foreign language(s) whenever you can.
  1. Tap into their interests by encouraging them to listen to music in the foreign language. They can find the lyrics on Google and follow them whilst listening and join in. Look if the language being learnt is an alternative setting on their favourite DVDs, they can watch them again with you in the foreign language with English subtitles. You’ll be surprised how much extra language they pick up.
  1. Be nostalgic through purchasing the foreign language version of a story book your child used to enjoy as a toddler. Such books are excellent. Your child will already know the story and will be able to make useful deductions on vocabulary and, invariably, such books are excellent to see the past tenses in context.
  1. Place a strong emphasis on discussion and debate of various topics. For success at IGCSE, your child will need strong opinions on areas such as school uniform, healthy living, the environment and friends vs. family; in Sixth Form the list is endless. Ultimately, they need to have opinions on things and this is of wider importance for their education. They can watch TED talks (preferably with subtitles in the language they’re learning) and read a quality newspaper.
  2. Follow the Modern Languages Department Twitter account – @chs_linguists. Here we share news and current affairs from the countries where our languages are spoken (both in English and in the foreign language). We also give updates on news linked to language learning. You can also keep up-to-date with any trips taking place.
  3. Where possible, support school trips which are tailored to enable students to embrace the foreign language and its cultures. These are experiences which will provide a springboard to inspire further learning.