International Left-handers’ Day

Monday 13th August is International Left-handers’ Day.

Only 10% of people are left-handed. This means that in general the world is geared up for right-handed people, and it means that sometimes left-handed people can feel inadequate through no fault of their own. For years my mum thought she couldn’t slice bread properly. It was always obvious when she’d been the last one to cut a slice off because the remaining loaf would look like it’d been attacked by a wild animal. Then one day we found a shop that sold left-handed knives… It turned out she could slice bread properly after all when she had the right tools for the job. After that we bought her a left-handed cake fork and she carried it everywhere with her because the one she was given in tea rooms always had the cutting bit on the wrong side.

Life isn’t just about bread and cake though. Our writing system is also more favourable to right-handers, and left-handed people often feel clumsy and awkward when they drag their hands through what they’ve just written, smudging it. To avoid this they often adopt a hook position when writing ie they place their hand above the line they are writing on and curve it round. Not only does this make it more difficult to control the pen resulting in writing just as messy as if they’ve smudged it, but it’s also uncomfortable and difficult to maintain for a long period. What’s the solution? First of all make sure they have plenty of space. Never put a left-handed person on the right hand side of the table or they’ll keep bumping into their neighbour. Then get them to adopt a ‘twist the paper not yourself” position. Get them to sit square onto the table. Then twist the book or paper clockwise to about a 45° angle. This way they can keep their wrists straight, as a right-handed person, would and they can see what they have written.

Other equipment that can be difficult for a lefty are scissors and rulers. Most people know that you can get left-handed scissors, but not many know that you can also get left-handed rulers where the numbers start at the other end for all those people who will automatically try to measure lines from the left.

There’s a brilliant online shop I found called www.anythinglefthanded.co.uk . Why not celebrate International Left-handers Day by buying a left-handed gift for the leftie in your life?

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.

 

 

Languages, Dyslexia and Free CPD!

On the first day of my summer holidays I headed off to Shropshire for a Dyslang event, having decided that anything that combines my two big interests – languages and dyslexia – had to be worth giving up a day of my holidays for.

It was about the problems faced with teaching multi-lingual individuals who have dyslexia. Difficulties in even diagnosing dyslexia can arise because of the influences of the individual’s first language (for example they may use a different script, their language may be read from right to left, there may be sounds in English that don’t exist in their first language). I don’t want to write a whole post about Dyslang because they have a website which will tell you all you want to know about they do – you’ll find it at www.dyslang.eu.

Dysland e-learning modulesWhat I do want to do is to tell people that there are 12 e-learning modules on their website which are completely free – all you have to do is register. Free CPD – what more could you ask for?

The other thing I want to do in this post is to share a fascinating nugget of information that I discovered on the course:

Our brains function differently depending on our first language and culture! The brains of people whose first language is English have a phoneme-grapheme correspondence function, but because not all of our words are phonetic their brains also have a word recognition function. The brains of people whose first language is a phonetic one, such as Italian or Spanish, have only the phoneme-grapheme recognition – because they don’t have any non-phonetic words, they don’t need to recognise words that don’t follow the pattern, so the word recognition function just doesn’t exist. Amazing!

How can I help my child with their homework?

It’s difficult. You want to support your child with their homework, but you don’t want to do it for them. So, how much help should you give them and what’s the best way to go about it?

The first thing you should do is make sure that you child has somewhere comfortable to work. By this I mean that they should have enough space to spread their books out, and there should be enough light for them to see what they are doing. Also make sure that there are no distractions, such as from the television or other siblings. This may be all the help that they need.

If they are struggling with the task itself, read through it yourself to make sure you understand what they have to do. Then try breaking it down into a series of smaller tasks for them, but instead of giving them a list of steps to follow, give them a list of questions to answer.

Click here for ideas for helping with English or literacy homework
Click here for ideas for helping with maths homework.

If your child is struggling with their homework on a regular basis it may be worth talking to their class teacher to see if they are having general difficulties. Sometimes children can benefit from having a private tutor who can give them some one-to-one help to help them catch up with their class.

Finally: everyone likes to be praised so make sure you do this. If your child has found the homework particularly hard then it may be better to praise the amount of effort they have put into it rather than the end results.