H is for Hawai´ian

H is for...Hawai´ian is a Polynesian language, related to Maori, and believed to have evolved from Tahitian. It is named after the island of Hawai´i, where it is the joint official language with English. The Hawai´ian language is under threat from English, which is the language used in schools, and for any years it suffered a decline, but in recent years it has been promoted and the number of native speakers is rising again.

Before the 1820s, Hawai´ian was a spoken language only. When missionaries arrived on the island, they learnt the language and then set about devising a writing system so that they could teach the local people to read and write.

The alphabet has 13 letters: 5 vowels and 8 consonants, including a glottal stop. It is written in Latin script with the addition of a character that looks like a back-to-front apostrophe, which represents the glottal stop.

Related posts: G is for German      I is for ……

Posted in A-Z of Languages | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Subtraction by Adding On

This is also sometimes called “subtraction using a blank numberline” and I’ve even heard it called “that nonsensical modern method”. This latter is a real misnomer since it is neither nonsensical nor modern. In fact it’s a method that dates back to before I was born, in days before we had calculators and electronic tills. It’s also a really useful method involving counting forwards, which is always easier than counting backwards – even for maths geniuses!

Let’s return to those old-fashioned little shops. I buy some sweets for 24p and hand over a £5. To work out my change, the shopkeeper needs to calculate £5 – 24p. Now she could count £4.99, £4.98, £4.97 until she had subtracted 24p, but what you actually would have heard is this:

24 and 6 makes 30, and 20 makes 50 and another 50 makes £1. 2, 3, 4, £5. And while doing this they counted the change (£4.76) into your hand.

This is the method that schools have returned to. To begin with, Children use a “blank numberline” – that is, a line that they can write the numbers on themselves. They then write the lower number at one end, and see what they need to add to make the higher number. Here’s an example:

96-38

numberline

The children first of all use their knowledge of number bonds to add to the next 10 (38 + 2 = 40).
They then use their ability to add multiples of 10. In the example above the child has done 40+10 = 50 and then 50 + 40 = 90. They may have been able to see straight away 40 + 50 = 90 and done this as one step, or they may have needed to do 40 + 10 = 50, 50 + 10 = 60, 60 + 10 = 70 and so on up to 90. The method isn’t about having to complete it in a certain number of steps, it’s about each child breaking it down into the smallest number of steps that they can manage.
When they reach the multiple of 10 before the higher number, they add on whatever units are needed to make the higher number, in this case it was +6 to make 96.
Finally, they add up all the numbers they added on to find the answer: 2+10+40+6 = 58 so 96 – 38 = 58.

When they are confident with this, they move on to jotting down only the numbers they are adding on, and they keep the tally in their head, until eventually they develop their working memory enough to hold all of the numbers in their head and write down just the answer.

Related posts: Teaching the Times Tables, Teaching Sequencing and Column Addition

Posted in Maths | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to write Inuktitut

My brother, who knows how fascinated I am by languages, has just shared this video with me and I felt compelled to share it with everyone else. I never knew before this what Inuktitut writing was like.

ᑖᒻ ᔅᑳᑦ and ᖃᓂᐅᔮᖅᐸᐃᑦ – YouTube.

Posted in Languages | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Endangered languages

Earlier this year I did a FutureLearn course about multilingualism, during which we had to consider the role of minority languages. I’ve also been reading up on some of the lesser known languages for my A-Z of languages series. As a result of all this, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much effort should be put into keeping vulnerable languages alive.

As anybody who has read this blog know, I love languages. They have fascinated me ever since I was 3 when I first realised that there were languages other than English out there. At school I begged my friends to teach me some words of Urdu, and I used to carry round a note book so that if I came across foreign words in books, I could write them down and learn them. I’ve studied living languages (French, Spanish, German, Chinese, and Arabic amongst others) and I have O’ and A’ levels in “dead languages” (Ancient Greek and Latin). I’ve listened enraptured as a tour guide explained Egyptian hieroglyphics to me, and every time I go to Wales, I look at the Welsh language information boards, even though I don’t understand them. I say all this as context to my musings……

I was actually shocked to discover that in a country as small as the UK, there are ten languages on the UNESCO endangered list, ranging from vulnerable to already extinct. Some I was aware of (Welsh, Cornish, Manx), others I had never even heard of (Norn and various versions of Channel Island French).  My first thought was that it was sad that we have already lost some of these languages, and that it would be lovely to revive those that have become extinct, and to boost those in danger to ensure their survival. After all, these languages are as much a part of our culture and history as castles and stone circles.

But how do you find the resources to revive 10 different languages? If you can’t afford to protect them all, how do you choose? What makes one language worth saving over another?

And in a country that is criticised for its poor language skills and its people’s inability to communicate with others in their own language, can we really justify spending time and money keeping languages alive artificially? Would we not be better to dedicate our time and energy learning the languages that are useful for international trade and relations?

In an ideal world I’d love to learn them all ten languages, and then teach them to others to restore a rich tapestry of language to our beautiful islands, Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world though, and I only have the time and energy to learn one more language properly, and for my own personal circumstances that has to be the non-endangered German.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also enjoy Should schools teach EAL children their home language?

Posted in Culture, Languages | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

MFL Spelling Game

French wordsThis week I made up a game for my children to practice the alphabet. I put lots of individual letters into a bag, and they had to take it in turns to draw a letter out and say its name. If they pronounced it correctly, they kept it; if not, it went back into the bag. The first person to spell a word with the letters they had in front of them was the winner.

I have several sets of scrabble tiles, so I used those, but to save money and time, the children could always write out the letters themselves and put them into a pot in the middle of the table.

My original idea was just to get them to practise the letters, as I’d noticed that although they were really good at chanting the alphabet, they were quite slow at naming the letters when spelling words.

However, the game ending up going beyond this. For starters, it really made them think about all the words they had learnt so far and how to spell them, so it turned into a good vocabulary revision game. They also practiced more than just the letters they pulled out, because they got so into the game that I overheard, “I really hope I get ‘erre’ , “I just need an ‘ixe’, “Please don’t be another ‘té’ etc.

The way I played it was that as soon as a child had made a word, the game stopped, the letters went back into the bag and we started again. The first few winners were ‘et’ and ‘as’ so then we added a rule that the word had to be at least three letters.

However, the game could be easily be adapted for older learners by either giving them a time limit to see who could make the most / longest words, or by giving each letter a Scrabble-type value and allow them to draw a certain number or letters to see who could make the highest-scoring word. Or to add an element of strategy, and to encourage older pupils to make longer words, you could add a rule that once someone has made a word, the other players can draw out one more letter to see if they can make a better one.

Related post: Learning to spell in French

Posted in Languages | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

G is for German

G is for...Although one of the most important languages in Europe, having more speakers than any other EU language, German is not widespread outside the continent. It is spoken in Germany (naturally), Austria, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Belgium.

It is characterised by its four cases (nominative, accusative, genitive and dative) and its three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter). It uses a Latin script but has ß (equivalent to ‘ss’) as a letter which doesn’t occur in English.

The word order in German is very strict, although it seems odd to English speakers. The verb is the second idea in the sentence, but as most English people are aware – there are certain constructions which send the verb scurrying to the end of the sentence, making the final word order quite unlike English.

Related posts: F is for Frisian    H is for…..

Posted in A-Z of Languages | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Should schools teach EAL children their home language?

I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for a while, after reading a comment on social media some weeks ago, claiming that the lack of attention to home languages in schools is degrading to that language. Could or should schools take more responsibility for teaching a child the language of their family? In my opinion there are arguments for and against.

The most obvious reasons against is that a child who has arrived in England and started school with no English needs help to learn English for both social and academic purposes. Without additional help with English, they are likely to fall behind their peers in the other subjects because they are unable to access them. And this additional help inevitably means they miss out on some of the other timetabled activities. If they were to have lessons in their home language on top of this, it would mean missing out on even more of the other timetabled lessons. This would probably lead to their English suffering because they weren’t practicing it in the classroom as often. Factor in the cost of finding teachers for all of the different home languages of pupils in a school, and it’s quite easy to see why schools feel that their responsibility ends with teaching the children English. After all, if their families want them to continue learning their home language, that’s up to them to sort it out, right?

On the other hand, if children are spending Monday to Friday in school and then all day Saturday having language lessons, they’re going to get tired very quickly. It’s already exhausting for them having to concentrate so hard because teaching is not taking place in their first language, and then at the weekends instead of having time to switch off, they are spending several more hours in a classroom. I have seen children struggling to stay awake because of the extra mental effort they are using. There is a definite advantage to bilingualism, and if they were given lessons in their home language during the school day, they could take full advantage of that later in life, and still only have to learn for the same number of hours as other children their age.

There is also the self-esteem issue to take into consideration. If they are not as good at English as their classmates, and are struggling to keep up in the other subjects because of the language, it could give their self-esteem a boost to spend some time during the school day doing something they are better at than their classmates.

Another thing the comment I saw bemoaned was the fact that EAL children rarely get to achieve qualifications in their home language. This is another tricky area. Of course it would be lovely if all children who could speak another language could get a qualification in it. Many schools already do their best to do this, and I often see pleas from other language teachers asking for speakers of various languages to assist with oral exams. However, there is a cost to exam boards to produce exams, and at a time when languages in general are in decline, there is little incentive for them to write and mark exams in minority languages.

What’s the solution? I’m sure I don’t know! One possibility for the qualifications would be for each country to take responsibility for its own language. So for example, English children living abroad would take an English GCSE, provided and marked by this country; Polish people living in England would take the equivalent qualification in Polish that their classmates would be sitting in Poland. It would need lots of agreements between the governments of the different countries, but in theory it should be possible. As for who should take responsibility for the teaching and, when and how they should be taught… Maybe somebody else could come up with a plan!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy Endangered Languages

Update: Since publishing this post I have come across this one about the pros and cons of weekend language schools that seems to tie in well with what I have written.

Posted in Languages | Tagged , , | Leave a comment