Most of us have learnt a language at school. Some of us had to study several over the years. I'm often complimented on how many languages I speak, although I understand them a lot more than I can speak.
This week, I've been spending some time with Germans, so I ended up practising the language, and I was amazed at how much came back to me, although my story with German didn't have a good start. I hated my first 3 years of German studies as the 2 teachers I had were, in one case, a pipe smoker who would turn up to the class completely unprepared, smoking his pipe in the teaching room between lessons (I know...old days, so last century!), giving the latter a horrible taste. He hated me and me him from the start. He could see I was no fool about his lack of professionalism, and hated me so much he stopped me and my friend from going to the Germany trip despite my mum's intervention.
The second teacher (in Year 11 - en seconde) was a case for psychiatry. Not good either. But at least I managed to hide in our big class of 40 pupils, and he never heard the sound of my voice nor knew my name. But during the whole year, I was terrified he would address me. He never did. I'm very little, it has its advantages.
The next two teachers I had in my last 2 years leading up to my German exam - le BAC - were a lot better: 2 nice ladies with a passion for their job and German, but I had lost the will to learn the language as I hated it so much after these three years. I must have learnt a bit though, as I got a 10/20 (a pass!) at the exam.
As we saw above, this is all about emotions and how we feel in the presence of our teacher. I would always go to my English lessons with great enthusiasm. The night before, the thought of having English the next day would feel me with joy. I loved my English teacher, Mr Leclerc. But regarding German, I dreaded the 3 hours/week the first three years.
When a child say they hate their teacher or that their teacher is 'rubbish', it can mean a lot of things: a feeling of terror for some (some teachers are bullies, or were certainly in my time in France), frustration that s/he doesn't explain things properly and doesn't seem open to questions/doesn't care about the pupils who are clearly lost, or just a lack of connection in the best scenario.
What to do?
1. Find out what your child hates so much. If the child is shy and the teacher doesn't seem to care when the pupils are lost, a frank talk with the teacher can help. It is also worth telling your child that if she thinks she's the only one not to understand something, she's unlikely to be the only one. And once she asks a questions, others are likely to rally with her about the same issue. If this is not the case, there is nothing wrong to be the only one not to understand something.
2. Obviously, if the teacher is a bully/ a scary individual, talk to the form teacher, Deputy-Head/Headteacher. Whether they will do something about it is another issue, hopefully they will.
3. Find out whether it's a simple thing such as:
I don't like him because he gives too much homework/too many detentions/too many tests, she's Italian so she can't teach French properly (not necessarily true) or if it is something more serious. In any case, all is not lost about your child's learning. If a child really wants to learn the language, he can still have good results, doing it on his own in the worst scenario where nothing is learnt at school.
- Find the curriculum for that year (and the next, as it will give you a broad view of what is coming), it is where all the topics and grammar that you need to learn are listed.
- Study the textbook. Most students have one (and maybe an exercise book) for their language class. Learn the vocabulary and verb tables from the book. If there are dialogues, learn them by heart as if you were an actor preparing for a play (this prepares you really well for speaking the language in real life). Make a vocabulary book.
- Highlight all your favourite words in one colour
- Highlight words that can be useful for many topics in another colour. And copy these words and sentences in a special notebook and on a document on your computer. You never know, you might need it when you're older for a trip or your future jobs. In any case, copying/typing helps your memory. Writing will help you to remember.
- Highlight words you never seem to remember in another colour.
- Learn at least 5 words by heart every week. This is a realistic goal. Let's say there are 9 months from September to the exams, This makes almost 200 words. Increase to 10 words a week for better results. Revise over and over main verbs, adverbs and top 10 expressions. There's no secret, repetition is the key.
-Watch and read a lot of articles, books, comics, films & videos online such as How to introduce yourself in French in the language you are learning. You will learn so much more than in school lessons, and you will be doing so much listening practice, which is a big weakness in school lessons, where it is not done enough.
- Find new friends online or in real life in the language. I used to have dozens of 'slow mail' penpals. You're lucky, you're studying in the 21st century, you can use Skype, Snapchat and other ways to make your learning fun and making the language real.
- Download apps on your phone, such as Duo Lingo, French radio, French test etc. (see the article written on 12 August 2016 below for the links to the apps).
- Do all the reading and exercises you can on the GCSE or A level exam revision books (by Letts for example), practice on this great website made for students learning French:
- Find past papers online and do them all. Once you have done the ones from your exam board, also find the other boards', as it's good practice too.
- With friends or family, test each other, that's fun!
-Work on the language you are learning at least 1 hour twice a week, and 3 or 4 times for better results. Don't leave it too long between sessions. It's better to do many short ones (30 minutes) than one 2 hour session in 10 days.
- Practise with the language assistant in your school. They are usually very friendly and a lot less busy than teachers.
- For more help and motivation, get a private tutor, it's useful if you can afford it and think it would help, but a lot of people do without. If you are lucky enough to have one, be aware the tutor is not there to write your essays for you but to help you understand how things work and put together in the language, as well as testing you to know your weaknesses and strengths in order to prepare adequately for the following sessions. Last but not least, we are here to help you gain confidence, give you advice and tips that we have gained over the years through on our experience, successes and mistakes.
- Do not let anyone tell you that you will fail if your teacher isn't good. It's not about your teacher anymore, it's about you taking action for your learning and you will succeed as you now know how to do it.
Conclusion: after many years hating German, I finally reconciled with the language about 6/7 years ago, when I happened to be teaching a few German professionals in the City, some became very good friends and suddenly, I was associating German with the friendship emotions. The language suddenly sounded really nice. As I grew closer to my students, I realised I loved the sound of German and could even understand words when they would pick up their phone in German. Nowadays, I enjoy every opportunity I have to speak a few words. I don't go very far, but I go a lot further than I thought I would, become so many words are similar, and after all, I have a German A level and good guessing powers.
About Author :
Sophie Marette, Voulez-vous Parler