5 ways to help your pupils love languages

Liz Dyer

Liz Dyer is marketing manager at London-based language learning publisher, EuroTalk. With a degree in Hispanic Studies from the University of Nottingham, Liz is a great believer in the value of languages - not only as an academic subject, but as a practical life skill. She is also the organiser of EuroTalk’s annual competition, the Junior Language Challenge, which aims to inspire a love of languages in primary school children across the UK.

Follow @EuroTalk

Website: www.eurotalk.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The past few years in the UK have seen a steady decline in the number of young people studying foreign languages at GCSE, A-Level and university. In other words, as soon as learning a language becomes optional, the majority of students give it up. But why, when languages offer a variety of proven benefits (see below), are they still seen as an unnecessary subject by so many? And what can teachers do to inspire their students – not only to persevere with languages, but actually to enjoy them?

"It’s about giving students an opportunity to understand the world."

Why is language learning so important?

One of the main battles faced by language teachers in the UK is the widely held assumption that ‘everyone speaks English’. And while it’s certainly true that English is hugely important for international business and culture, that by no means makes all other languages irrelevant. Indeed, research has revealed countless benefits that reveal why learning other languages is so important. Candidates with a second language are more attractive to employers, and may even enjoy a higher salary; a study by Albert Saiz from MIT found that having a second language can boost earnings by 2 or 3 per cent. And that’s not all; it’s also been found that bilingualism is good for the brain, delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s and improving cognitive skills and memory.

In addition, and despite what many students believe, learning a second – or third – language is about far more than just reciting verb endings or learning lists of useless vocabulary. It’s about giving students an opportunity to understand the world in which they live, and the other cultures around them. And they may even gain a better understanding of their first language through studying the building blocks of a second.

This all sounds great on paper. But in the real world, there’s a problem - one that language teachers are all too familiar with.

As compelling as all the above reasons may be, they’re unlikely to mean much to a reluctant teenager. The majority of students will be unimpressed by the claim that learning a language will improve their cognitive skills, or help them appreciate other cultures. So how do you convince your pupils that languages are not only beneficial, but actually enjoyable?

1. Use the Internet – it’s free!

Gone are the days when the only resource available to language teachers was books and tapes. The Internet offers a vast array of methods that you can use to your advantage – like social media, YouTube, or Skype. Where we used to have French penpals, today students can have face-to-face, instant conversations with real people, and make friends all over the world. And the best thing about the Internet? It won’t take a penny out of your budget.

2. Encourage pupils to learn from each other

It might not even be necessary to use Skype. UK schools are seeing increasing numbers of pupils whose first language isn’t English. Too often, the press paints this as a bad thing, diverting valuable time and resources, but it doesn’t have to be if you see it as an opportunity. Invite students from other backgrounds to be ambassadors and teach their fellow pupils (and teachers) a little of their language and culture. Learning from their peers is likely to be more attractive than studying in a formal classroom environment, and will help students understand the real world potential of languages.

3. Try speaking their language

We all remember our French lessons at school, learning incredibly useful phrases like ‘the dog is on the chair’. How many of us have actually used that phrase since school? Maybe one in a million (Probably not even that many...). Pupils will always respond better to lessons that are relevant to them – so why not get them to practise the past tense by talking about what happened on their favourite TV show last night? Or the conditional by describing what they would do if they met their favourite band? You can still cover the essential elements of the syllabus, but in a more fun and up-to-date way that will mean more to your students.

4. Put it in context

Your students will only truly begin to understand the value of languages if they see the whole picture. Learning Spanish purely for the sake of passing an exam can feel like a pointless and deeply unexciting prospect, so try including lessons on Spanish food, music, fashion, dance, literature, history… That way your pupils get to discover a whole new country and will begin to understand what they could experience in the future through learning the language. And you can get your students involved in planning and researching the lessons – yet another way you can use the Internet and its endless resources to your advantage.

5. Get competitive

The best way to motivate anyone – of any age – is to introduce an element of competition. In addition, research has shown that we all learn better when we’re enjoying ourselves – so try and use a game-based approach in your lessons. Set up a language quiz in a TV game show format, with prizes for the top-scoring team. Or you could get your students to write and perform a short play in the language they’re learning, and find some impartial judges to choose the best one.

All of the above suggestions can be boiled down to two key factors – if we’re going to make languages a more attractive proposition for students, we need to find a way to make them both enjoyable and relevant. Only by encouraging pupils to see language as part of a bigger picture – and have fun doing it – can we hope to reverse the current worrying downward trend.

How do you promote languages in your school? Let us know below!

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"