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…..

Learning Chinese

As readers of this blog will know, I love learning new things.  Last summer I spotted an advert for a course in Chinese for primary school teachers, and as MFL (modern foreign languages) is my specialist subject, I decided to sign up.  Throwing myself in at the deep end, I promised my new school that I would set up a lunchtime Chinese club, so I had to make sure I really did learn some!

I must confess, I was a bit worried.  I mean – Chinese is really difficult, right?  It’s doesn’t even have an alphabet, just thousands of characters.  But it actually turned out to be a lot easier than I imagined.  Obviously, it takes years to learn to speak a language fluently, so I have only learnt the basics, but this is what I discovered:

–          It’s a subject-verb-object language, so the word order is the same as English.  This already makes it easier than some languages.

–          The verbs don’t conjugate (i.e. there are no different endings depending on who is doing it – like he lives, they live in English, or il habite, ils habitent in French.

–          There are no articles (English has ‘a’ and ‘the’; French has un, une, des, le, la and les; Spanish has un, una, unos, unas, el, la, los and las; Chinese has nothing)

–          There are no tenses.  In Chinese, the verb remains exactly the same and you know whether it’s past, present or future from the context.

This simplicity actually makes it ideal for primary school children to learn.

Like any language, it does have its peculiarities and difficulties, such as the tones (the way your voice goes up or down for certain words) but this is no more challenging than getting children to understand the concept of nouns having genders (Chinese doesn’t have those) or that ‘you are’ might be ‘tu es’ but might be ‘vous êtes’ depending on who and/or how many people you are talking to.

Of course the characters are tricky but the children in my club really enjoy drawing and practising them, and they have the advantage that children are not influenced by how the word is written, so in general their pronunciation is better right from the start.  The fact that the language isn’t written with an English alphabet doesn’t faze them at all.  (In fact, I also run an Ancient Greek club and the children there are also fascinated by the fact that language can be written using different symbols.)  We all enjoy making up little stories to help remember the characters.  On the course I did, we learned a little about how the characters are made up, with radicals giving an indication of meaning and a phonetic element indicating pronunciation.

And there is far more vocabulary in some topic areas.  For example, English has mum, dad, brother, sister, grandma, granddad, while Chinese has different words depending on whether it’s an older or younger brother, a maternal or paternal grandmother etc.  But for the moment the primary aged children I am teaching only need to learn the ones they require for their own family.

The children and I are really enjoying learning together, and although I will never be fluent in Mandarin, you never know – one of the children I am teaching may be inspired to study it further and become fluent in the future.



Literacy in a School for the Deaf

Lessons are taught in a mixture of English, SSE (Sign Supported English) and BSL (British Sign Language) depending on the subject being taught and the needs of the class.

Literacy lessons are very visual. Just like in a mainstream school, teachers make use of cartoons and film clips to stimulate writing – the only difference is that here they  have to stand at the front of the classroom and interpret the film.

Independent activities are the same as ones you would see in a mainstream school: sequencing activities from film stills, comparing and contrasting two settings from a film and writing a word or sentence about them, drawing and labelling a superhero. The younger children copy words from a mini whiteboard (lower ability) or find the words they need in their own wordbooks. Older children write by themselves, asking for spelling as required. Words are recorded in wordbooks in writing (for spelling) and with a picture of the relevant sign (for recognition and understanding).

The children are also taught sentence construction, just as they would be in a mainstream school. They begin in the lower years by identifying the subject, verb and object and constructing simple sentences like “Jack plays ball”. Those children who have been brought up in a BSL household need practise with this order as it is different in BSL (which has the object first, then the subject then the verb). Each word is colour-coded, and the children have coloured cards blu-tacked to their tables to help them remember English word order.

Higher up the school they will come across words such as “a”, “the” and “is” – all tricky words for deaf children because they just don’t exist in BSL.

Many deaf children find it hard to understand that a thing (not just a person) can be the subject of a sentence, so this is something else that is covered in grammar lessons: The teddy bear is old. The ice-cream is cold.

Further up the school they learn how to use connectives, but again in a very visual way – for example pictures of various objects to choose one they like and one they don’t: I like ice-cream but I don’t like carrots. Connectives are also colour-coded, and those children that understand how to use them have the relevant coloured cards blu-tacked to their desks to help them order words correctly.

Related posts: Phonics in a School for the Deaf   Numeracy in a School for the Deaf xx