CLIL: Interviewing La Dante’s teacher trainers

Mary Spratt and Helen Baker have run our two weeks’ CLIL course for a group of secondary teachers from Zaragoza, who taught a variety of disciplines from PE to Music and Art. We’ve interviewed them after the end of the course.

Mary Spratt, teacher trainer and course writer 

  • How was your experience teaching CLIL at La Dante? I think it was very positive. La Dante is a small school and because of it everybody is able to meet, everybody supports and gives ideas to everybody else and you just get this great feeling of collaboration. I think this kind of setup is quite special.
  • What were the highlights of these two weeks? We’ve been working for two weeks with three Spanish teachers who teach Art, Sport and Music in a school in Zaragoza. I think that the highlights of these two weeks were hearing them talking about their own lessons and their own students. Some of them had great ideas about how they could create programmes for their classes and how to turn their classes into CLIL classes. These teachers were just so very motivated and it has been a pleasure teaching to them.
  • What is the most important message you would give to teachers who would like to apply for a CLIL Course at La Dante in Cambridge? I think that a lot of subject teachers are quite frightened or worried about teaching CLIL and similarly a lot of English teacher trainers are worried about teaching CLIL. CLIL is a challenge, I agree, but I also think that CLIL is a great deal of fun and experiments: one of the Spanish teachers this morning said: “teaching CLIL is an adventure”. Some people probably think “I do not want an adventure, I want a recipe”: it’s difficult to find a recipe for CLIL, but there are guidelines and within those guidelines, you can do lovely adventurous things. It’s true that when students learn both content and language together it helps them to get motivated for both and to make very good progress in both.

Helen Baker, teacher trainer and Cambridge examiner

  • How was your experience teaching CLIL at La Dante? I’ve really enjoyed the experience of teaching CLIL here at La Dante, I had some very motivated students who were really keen to apply their teaching knowledge to the CLIL situation. The best thing for me has been seeing them develop their ideas and putting the theory into practice over the time. We also had a relaxed working atmosphere with treats and celebrations along the way.
  • What is the most important message you would give to teachers who would like to apply for a CLIL Course at La Dante in Cambridge? I’d recommend that they come with an open mind and be prepared to learn a lot, perhaps in a short time, and to adapt their knowledge of teaching – which should already be extensive – to the CLIL situation. I hope that more students will want to join during the next years and have this experience seeing how CLIL can really enrich their teaching.

For more information on our CLIL courses, please enquire: english@ladante-in-cambridge.org

CLIL: practical tips for teachers

Is there a recipe for CLIL?

Much has been written on what CLIL is and why to do it but there is very little practical guidance on how to plan and teach CLIL lessons. If you are a subject teacher who has been asked to teach in English or a language teacher who has been asked to help teach content, you are probably looking for the best way to do it. In our opinion, CLIL is not only about finding the perfect recipe but rather an adventurous journey that you can embark on – but not without some essential guidelines.

CLIL: where to start?

There are some things you should definitely keep in mind when you start planning a CLIL lesson. First of all, think about who your students are – their level of English (or whatever the second language is), their previous knowledge of the content you are going to teach them, and what they expect from the class. Once you know that, you can start to outline the programme you want to follow, matching your students’ language level to the content and selecting the materials to use.

Here are two examples to underline the impact the language level of your students could have on your course. During a CLIL course, we ran in Italy in a secondary school, we were teaching students that had quite a high level of English. This allowed us to focus more on the content side (in that case Arts and Science) and the English language was just the means we used to deliver the classes. With these students, we were able to adapt material designed for native English pupils. Then we had another experience in a school where the students’ English level was quite weak. This forced us to choose a more language-oriented approach, focusing on the particular vocabulary related to the content areas (in this case PE and Music). With these pupils, native English textbooks were linguistically too hard, so we adapted and created our own materials a) to teach key concepts and vocabulary regarding PE and Music and b) to develop their language skills, with the goal of allowing them to be able to use real English content textbooks by their last year of school. lesson. First of all, think about who your students are – their level of English (or whatever the second language is), their previous knowledge of the content you are going to teach them, and what they expect from the class. Once you know that, you can start to outline the programme you want to follow, matching your students’ language level to the content and selecting the materials to use.

Here are two examples to underline the impact the language level of your students could have on your course. During a CLIL course, we ran in Italy in a secondary school, we were teaching students that had quite a high level of English. This allowed us to focus more on the content side (in that case Arts and Science) and the English language was just the means we used to deliver the classes. With these students, we were able to adapt material designed for native English pupils. Then we had another experience in a school where the students’ English level was quite weak. This forced us to choose a more language-oriented approach, focusing on the particular vocabulary related to the content areas (in this case PE and Music). With these pupils, native English textbooks were linguistically too hard, so we adapted and created our own materials a) to teach key concepts and vocabulary regarding PE and Music and b) to develop their language skills, with the goal of allowing them to be able to use real English content textbooks by their last year of school.

How to select the right material?

An important factor to consider when selecting materials is to avoid overloading students with too much information that they will not be able to process. This can be done by choosing a relatively simple content area or by using an area that you have already covered in L1 and doing the CLIL course as revision and extension.

Teachers could find useful to work on English textbooks designed for native English primary schools. This has advantages for both teacher and students: these books’ content level is not too hard but provides an authentic context for the vocabulary that the students will need later on. As for the teachers, they can use the ready-made exercises to test content knowledge, while focusing on the development of further activities to consolidate the second language skills of their students.

Online resources for CLIL

The internet has a lot of resources for teachers: for example, the British Council and publishers like Pearson offer free content online. You can also have a look at a sample of a CLIL lesson about Induism here. You will also find further ideas on this page.

It’s very important for language teachers and content teachers to be working together as a team. Sharing ideas and observing each other’s lessons would really boost your CLIL skills.

For example, content teachers have a huge amount of materials which you may be able to find equivalents of in English, and language teachers probably have ideas as to how to exploit those materials for language purposes.

Material analysis and how to use it at its best

Vocabulary is definitely one of the first aspects to consider – is there any technical or specialised vocabulary that your students need to know for the course, or to understand the text? If that is the case, make sure to explain it beforehand by getting students to match words to definitions or pictures, through gap-fill exercises or helping them to guess the meaning from context.

Practical ideas: your lesson will probably focus on the general comprehension of one main text – make it more interesting by using comprehension activities such as information gapsjigsaw reading tasks and jumble tasks. Follow-up activities can work on reinforcing the vocabulary taught earlier and developing both language skills and comprehension of the topic. These activities can include group discussions, individual presentations, making posters and writing about the topic.

For more information on our CLIL courses, please enquire: english@ladante-in-cambridge.org

 

Spanish for children: Learning through games and songs

Interviewing our Spanish teachers Cristina and Manuel

It’s interesting to see how many children have been interested in learning Spanish since La Dante started introducing it in January 2017 as part of the European languages offered.

There has been a noticeable increase in schools offering Spanish in the past 10 years overtaking from French and German. It’s not surprising as Spanish is spoken in 20 countries and there are 400 million Spanish speakers in the world. There are different strands of Spanish and it’s interesting to know that at La Dante you are offering Spanish with teachers from Spain as well as South American. I understand that there are a number of students who wish to go and travel or work in South America who need to get accustomed to this particular accent. There are some differences in pronouncing Spanish words or addressing people with ‘vos’ or ustedes’ or even ‘s’ that is not pronounced in some parts of South America. We wish to offer all this at La Dante and in fact our children are exposed to different accents as our teachers come from Spain as well as South America.

Do you teach Spanish to children as well as adults?

Cristina Navarrete Soria, Spanish teacher at La Dante:

Of course we do. Here at La Dante, we teach Spanish using a communicative method, combining realia (objects from real life) and lots of songs and games to make learning much more fun. Our ten-week programme for children is designed to cover main topics such as animals, food, colours, numbers, members of family, clothes, etc. where children learn vocabulary and small sentences in context. I encourage and give confidence, they earn special points when they do well and the topics are always relevant to their lives and their world.

So how would you structure a typical class?
Cristina: Say, for example, that we are learning about animals: first, we listen to a couple of Spanish songs about animals to help children learn and remember the main vocabulary of the lesson. For every song, we learn the lyrics and some moves so we can sing and dance all together, because linking words with movements makes learning much easier and way more exciting. They have to dance and follow the teacher’s instructions, like clapping, move their feet, or shout Spanish words. Then, once the children are acquainted with the new words, we start to use them and consolidate them by playing games with farm-related toys and farm bingo.

Our children are fully immersed in the Spanish language for the whole duration of the class, having a fun with other children of their age. The target language is spoken at all times.

What do the children love the most?

Cristina: We usually play the same song both at the beginning of the class and before saying goodbye, so that the children are able to remember the lyrics by the end of the lesson as well as the majority of the vocabulary learned that day.

Using realia means that we use real objects during the teaching sessions: children learn about clothes with actual clothes that the teacher shows in class.

So it’s a ludic approach?

Cristina: Yes indeed, for children who have beginners level of Spanish, the focus is on playing, especially with children as young as 5 who come to La Dante to learn Spanish. We play Spanish games like The Hopscotch to memorise colours and numbers: the teacher asks them to throw a ball into different squares drawn on the ground linked to different numbers and colours and the children have to jump onto the squares, saying colours and numbers out loud as they play.

One of the games we have noticed children enjoy the most is a role-play in which each of them plays a member of the family in a toy house.

Furthermore, among other activities we also do arts and crafts: for instance with like or dislike, I hand out a green paper (likes) and a red paper (dislikes). When I say Me gusta el tomate the children have to draw a tomato on the green paper.

Our children also enjoy our picnic time! We simulate a picnic where they have to list food they would like to eat, always in Spanish.

Do you also have a bilingual Spanish group?

Manuel Orta Simón (Spanish teacher): we certainly do and in fact, I am the main teacher. In the current bilingual class, the parents expect the children to improve their fluency level so when their cousins come and visit from Mexico, they can have a wider range of vocabulary, a better way of expressing themselves with grammatically correct sentences. In general, they wish their children to achieve confidence in speaking Spanish as here of course, going to an English school, they have fewer occasions to use their second language.

What kind of topics and activities do you do with bilinguals?

Manuel: we certainly focus more on grammar for the older ones, we watch sketches on Harry Potter the children love as well as their favourite sport. At the moment they love Nadal at Wimbledon and we introduced specific tennis vocabulary so they can talk about this with their cousins. We also go to Museums and talk about a variety of topics:  we went to the Polar Museum where they wore a special polar suit so it was great for them to develop a variety of new vocabulary. They are motivated and great to teach, they come along with pleasure.

What is the main message for parents who wish their children to be fluent in another language?

Giulia Portuese-Williams (Director and founder at La Dante): We encourage parents to speak their own language at home and inspire their sons and daughters from day one. It’s a gift for life and their children will be thankful forever. When they are young, before turning 5, if exposed to another language, children learn with no effort. Research shows that bilingual children offer a wider variety of solutions related to problem-solving, a lot more than the one solution given by a monolingual child of the same age (in set experiments).

Of course, there is no age limit to learn a language and any age is as good.  We encourage parents and children to join the Spanish community so the children are aware that it’s a language that is spoken within the family and among friends. The secret of success is to get the children involved in a school with the right language approach to teaching, join the community with other bilingual parents, read books in Spanish, watch a few videos in Spanish and of course travel to Spain to visit friends and families.

My boys certainly loved their visits to their nonna in the South of Italy by the sea and Lorenzo had a special experience in an Italian school for a week for two years as they are bilinguals in English and Italian. I certainly encourage parents to give their children an equal experience in a Spanish school for a short or long period as making friends is special and language, at last, means a lot to them.

News: In September we are introducing Singing in Spanish for children with an Argentinian teacher Lorena Garcia who has a Performing Music degree specialised in singing from the Univesity of Buenos Aires in Argentina. We certainly encourage parents to offer this special skills to their children should they show a talent for singing.

At La Dante, we thrive in creating a great experience where children get to love the Spanish language and learning becomes a real passion, a drive that comes naturally over the years.

Pinocchio Project at La Dante – Overcoming the challenges of raising bilingual children

When it comes to learning a foreign language, every child is different and each of them needs a specifically tailored programme throughout their language learning process in order to be able to improve.
When parents speak different languages, there will always be a majority language – the one that is also spoken at school and by the community that surrounds the child. The parents who speak the minority language might have encouraged and supported the learning of their own native language from an early age. Unfortunately, they often find that at the age of 5, when children start going to school, they stop using the minority language.
Why does that happen? It’s because children are practical and they quickly understand which language is more useful in their everyday life – and that makes it easy for them to decide to neglect the minority language. To prevent this from happening, the parents have to be able to show them the importance of their second language, and they can do it by surrounding them with other children who speak the same language, creating an oasis where speaking the minority language is necessary – and fun!

What’s special about children’s courses at La Dante?
At La Dante, we made it our primary objective to create a sense of community. We want children and parents who come here to feel we are an enlarged Italian family in the heart of Cambridge, where learning comes naturally and where they can borrow Italian books or Italian movies and enjoy their time with other children who share their background. La Dante has been supporting families in this way since 2008 when the school was founded for this exact same reason. We have seen an incredible number of young learners studying for and successfully passing GCSE’s and A-Levels or IB exams with exceptional results… but remember it all started when they were kids and just enjoyed playing in Italian with their friends.
Raising a child bilingually is not easy – and that’s something our Director and Founder, Giulia Portuese-Williams, knows very well. Her sons, now at university, have gone through two different paths in their learning: one, Lorenzo, has always been enthusiastic about his mother’s language and thought it was “really cool to be Italian” once he discovered – at secondary school – that “girls love it”. While for the younger one, Luca, he didn’t see the point in speaking any language other than English, as “none of his friends at school spoke any Italian”. When he was 10, he completely dropped it. Giulia gave him the space he wanted, but she never stopped talking to him in Italian, until he started showing more interest and spontaneously chose to start learning it again when he was 14 years old. Giulia often took them on trips to Italy to visit friends, family, and certainly, their Italian nonna had a major role in keeping them attached to their Italian roots. She was the one who truly inspired them with her octopus salad and delicious food from Southern Italy. Luca and Lorenzo both came at La Dante to join our Italian classes to consolidate both written and spoken skills. They both managed to acquire a good level of Italian and confidence in speaking Italian and now they are both fluent.

How do you develop your communication skills with children?
We know that children are only capable of brief attention spans. Our Italian teachers are trained to vary the topics of their class often enough to keep their interest high while developing all four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) at different levels.
In small classes, children thrive and develop the Italian language from a very young age. Joseph, for instance, was just 4 when he first joined one of our classes – he is now 5 and has an incredible control of language: he loves making hot chocolate with the teacher when he starts his lessons and he speaks with a perfect Italian accent.
Our teachers take into account the age and needs of every young student and their personal and linguistic skills in order to develop a programme that gives them the confidence necessary to communicate in the language.

What children classes is La Dante currently offering?
We currently run two beginners’ courses, which are aimed at two different types of learners. The first group includes children from 4 to 5 years old and the second group is intended for children from 6 to 8 years old. Both these courses focus on the communicative approach and place particular emphasis on developing their speaking skills.
All children have the possibility to learn Italian while having fun with their friends through games and creative activities, under the supervision and the guidance of our native Italian teachers. They get to know every child and give constant feedback to parents.
Who is the Pinocchio bilingual project aimed at?
Our brand-new Pinocchio bilingual project is aimed at children who have already achieved some level of fluency in Italian skills but need to practice their writing skills and to develop their knowledge of Italian culture, as they would if they were living in Italy. In September 2018, the new classes will start following a programme based on consolidating Italian grammar, becoming acquainted with Italian traditions, and learning the basics of History, Arts and Geography.
La Dante is currently the only school that is providing this important educational service to the Anglo-Italian bilingual community in Cambridge, UK.
What happens in the classrooms?
In our children’s courses, children are exposed to basic Italian vocabulary and learn some simple sentences: they learn how to describe their daily routines, how to talk about their favourite food, to ask for their favourite pizza or pasta, how to talk about what they like to do in their free time, how to ask for directions, how to speak about their family and so on. Our Italian teachers make an extensive use of realia (real objects, photographs, games, role play, rhymes, songs, creative media tools, online resources and textbooks) to enhance the children’s skills.
As for the bilingual classes, the programme is different: we use a textbook to give the course a better structure and to enhance their knowledge of Italian culture, History, Geography, and Arts, as well as introducing elements of grammar in a structured way. Italian teachers use a wealth of textbooks used in Italy which will consolidate grammatical skills over time. Parents’ support and encouragement are extremely important in inspiring children and in helping them with homework at home. But don’t forget: at La Dante, we believe “learning through play” is the best and most effective way to learn.
The warm and welcoming environment at La Dante is where children make friends and have fun on Saturdays while learning one of the most beautiful languages in the world!
Come along to find out more – it is never too early nor too late for your children to learn another language! Give them the gift of fluency, they’ll be thanking you for life once they grow up.

The mayor George Pippas unveiled a commemoration plaque for the 10th anniversary of La Dante in Cambridge

The event marked the significant contribution the European Cultural Centre La Dante in Cambridge has had in the community promoting and disseminating language learning and culture

Cambridge – On 24th April 2018 a commemorative plaque was unveiled  outside the European Cultural Centre La Dante in Cambridge during a ceremony that took place at the centre in the heart of the city to celebrate its 10th anniversary. The Mayor of Cambridge, Councellor George Pippas, to mark this milestone said: ‘Cambridge is a great city made up of unique people. We have a strong community of Chinese, Italians, Greeks, Bangladeshis, and Europeans. So it is like a patchwork in which everyone contributes to the success of the city of Cambridge. I am the first European Mayor elected here in Cambridge and I understand the importance of teaching first of all our children how to communicate, but also the adult people. I fully support what the European Cultural Centre is doing and I am fully impressed. I am also impressed to see so many adults. In Cambridge the Educational establishment is well known in the world and we endeavour in working hard to keep these standards very high. I am pleased that La Dante is developing not only a remarkable language experience where people learn Italian and Spanish and English, but has a weight in the cultural impact they have in our community’.

The main aim of the European Cultural Centre La Dante in Cambridge is to promote knowledge and enjoyment of Italian, Spanish, and English language and culture. Since 2008 when the Director Giulia Portuese-Williams founded it, La Dante in Cambridge has played a major role in language learning through its unique communication approach, and combining language and cultural traditions. Over the years, it has established partnerships with the most important cultural educational establishments in Cambridge, such as the University of Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Art Language Location, UKTI, Italian Chamber of Commerce, Italian Consulate and Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce to support the community in language learning provisions.

The Director Giulia Portuese-Williams said: ‘When I thought of La Dante, back in 2008, I dreamed of a European Cultural Centre where people of any background came to enjoy language and culture in Italian and Spanish as well as offering English to European students. “We all know how important it is to communicate in a language and how this facilitates understanding and integration in Europe thus improving mutual respect. At La Dante we have young and adult students who are passionate about learning Italian or Spanish and come to our regular film clubs, seminars to keep up their language and discuss modern issues with us. We also run for them a trilingual radio show, Radio Dante, thanks to the help of Cambridge 105 Radio and its facilities. Our oldest student, Margaret, at the age of 90, still enjoys reading in Italian and joins our classes as well as our youngest little student Joseph at the age of 4 playing with every day toys, singing songs in Italian. After all, that dream, back in 2008 became a reality with the support of our wonderful team, students and trustees to whom all my thanks go with all my heart.”

La Dante in Cambridge celebrates its 10th anniversary on February 24th and on April 24th

Cambridge – The European Cultural Centre La Dante in Cambridge, a not-for-profit cultural association recognised by Dante Alighieri Society in Rome (Italy), is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. For the special occasion there will be an Italian Opera Concert on 24th February 2018, and an official unveiling of a commemorative plaque on 24th April 2018 with the Mayor of Cambridge, George Pippas. The concert, in partnership with the Cambridge University Opera Society, “L’ Elisir D’amore” by Donizetti, will take place at West Road Concert Hall, at 7.45pm (tickets available online at  adcticketing.com/amore  or by telephone at 01223 300085); whereas the official Ceremony with the Mayor Pippas will be held at the European Cultural Centre La Dante, in Hawthorn Way  (The Lodge, Hawthorn Way, off Chesterton Road CB4 1BT) at 12,30pm.

As part of the international organisation La Società Dante Alighieri, which has 500 offices worldwide, La Dante in Cambridge is one of the most prestigious centres in Europe. Its main aim is to promote knowledge and enjoyment of Italian, Spanish, and English language and culture. Since 2008 when the Director Giulia Portuese-Williams founded it, La Dante in Cambridge has played a major role in language learning through its unique communication approach and combining language and cultural traditions. Over the years, it has established partnerships with the most important cultural educational establishments in Cambridge, such as the University of  Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Art Language Location, UKTI, Italian Chamber of Commerce, Italian Consulate and Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce to support the community in language learning provisions.

When Giulia Portuese-Williams thought of La Dante back in 2008, she dreamed of a European Cultural Centre where people of any background could come to enjoy language and culture in Italian and Spanish as well as offering English to European students.  “We all know how important it is to communicate in a language and how this facilitates understanding and integration in Europe thus improving mutual respect,” said the Director, Portuese-Williams, “We have young and adult students who are passionate about learning Italian or Spanish and come to our regular film clubs, seminars to keep up their language and discuss modern issues with us.  Our oldest student, Margaret, at the age of 90, still enjoys reading in Italian and joins our classes as well as our youngest little student Joseph, 4yo, who likes to play with everyday toys and sing songs in Italian. After all, that dream came true back in 2008 with the support of our wonderful team, students and trustees to whom all my thanks go with all my heart.”

 

The benefits of learning English and tennis

When learning becomes a great language experience deepening yourself in tennis, friendship and enjoyment of the language

 

 

 

 

 

There is something special about having a group of talented and keen teenagers from Imperia who enjoy a special English experience in Cambridge. A unique one indeed as this summer 2017, they were learning English in the morning and have tennis coaching in the afternoon with other British teenagers. Filippo Rapone, already a keen tennis player from Pisa had a ‘great experience with British coaches from the Cambridge Tennis Academy’ his mum says. The teacher also introduced tennis vocabulary and sport techniques in their lessons, they talked about volley, serves and deuce to say just a few. The energy that tennis gave the teenagers inspired them in discussing matches and comment on short championships with their heros from British Andy Murray to Spanish Rafael Nadal.

English and tennis, language and sport gave our teenagers great confidence in their body language and expressivity, enhanced their skills and strategies that will also serve them well in life off the court. Tennis is mostly a singular game and because teenagers are out on their own and competing, they learn to

accept responsibilities for their own actions. They have to learn to deal with adversity as well as success and to adapt to different situations and environments. Tennis fosters work ethic, discipline and sportsmanship in teenagers and builds up their strategic and problem solving skills.

Tennis also develops:  a good work ethic discipline
skills to accept responsibilities, a way to cope with stress, physical and mental plans and strategies on how to beat an opponent problems solving skills.

Tennis also teaches sportsmanship at an early age, it teaches teenagers to cope and understand defeat as well as how to deal with success. It builds teamwork in the case of doubles and  skills to communicate effectively with a partner.

Double and single games were played with local teenagers from a secondary school as well as Rounders. Sophie Stamford and Isabella Pellegrini both studying at Hills Road College in Cambridge gave seminars on the British Education system, meals at the school, the school curriculum. Sophie and Isabella (both bilingual Anglo-Italian students) organised cultural outings with the students at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Archaeological Museum, the funny thing was that only at the end of their stay, our Italian students found out they were bilingual at a game of Rounders, it was truly hilarious.

So learning a language at La Dante is not just about studying in a classroom but it’s a continuous, creative, evolving development: through friendship, games and tennis.

This year was such a success that we’ll be running more English and tennis summer camps at La Dante next year in 2018 from July 23rd to the 17th June. 

Find out more: english@ladante-in-cambridge.org

Imparare l’italiano alla Dante e’…un gioco da ragazzi!

Molti genitori, pensando al futuro dei propri figli in una societa’ sempre piu’ globalizzata, decidono di fare loro un enorme regalo: l’apprendimento di una lingua straniera. Il bilinguismo è innegabilmente una grande ricchezza, in quanto permette di confrontarsi con lingue e culture diverse dalla propria, aprendo la mente non solo a un nuovo codice comunicativo, ma anche a una maggiore comprensione e tolleranza nei confronti degli altri. Parlare piu’ lingue, insomma, è una delle abilità più importanti che i vostri figli possano acquisire, fin da piccolissimi.

L’apprendimento linguistico durante la prima infanzia è un processo naturale e privo di sforzo, in quanto i bambini sono dotati di una predisposizione innata per l’acquisizione del linguaggio. Infatti, come dimostrano moltissime ricerche di neuro e psicolinguistica, per  i bambini e’ piu’ semplice imparare una nuova lingua rispetto agli adulti, poiché hanno una maggiore elasticita’ cerebrale, oltre a una grande capacità d’imitazione e una memoria eccellente. Dal punto di vista cognitivo, questo processo aiuta i bambini a migliorare le loro capacita’ di analisi nelle attività di problem-solving, rafforza le loro competenze decisionali e influisce positivamente anche sul loro sviluppo emotivo, in particolar modo quando l’apprendimento e’ accompagnato da attivita’ ludiche con gli insegnanti e il gruppo dei pari. Inoltre, imparare una seconda lingua da piccoli allena l’elasticita’ cerebrale necessaria per apprenderne di nuove in futuro. E’, insomma, un piccolo grande passo verso molti altri traguardi.

In particolare, la lingua italiana e’, per alcuni dei nostri piccoli alunni,  la lingua di un genitore o dei nonni, come nel caso di Matilda, che ci ha raccontato orgogliosa che la sua grandma le diceva sempre “ciao bella!” quando la salutava. Insomma, l’italiano come lingua delle origini, ma anche dei bei ricordi delle vacanze al mare,  di piatti gustosi e di paesaggi incantevoli. Non finisce qui: imparare l’italiano, infatti, e’ un ottimo investimento, in quanto la nostra lingua e’ da sempre riconosciuta come uno strumento di comunicazione d’eccellenza in moltissimi ambiti: dalla letteratura alla gastronomia, dall’arte alla moda e alla musica, e cosi’ via.

I corsi di italiano per bambini alla Dante sono tenuti da esperti insegnanti madrelingua. Negli ultimi mesi, Lucia Vasapollo, Laura Guerrieri e Lucia Casiraghi hanno tenuto corsi individuali e di gruppo, utilizzando un approccio che si e’ rivelato vincente: l’apprendimento linguistico basato sul gioco, in particolare su tecniche di role-play e make-believe. Tutti i nostri corsi hanno avuto risultati decisamente positivi e gratificanti. Con grande attenzione e soddisfazione abbiamo seguito passo passo il processo di apprendimento dei bambini, osservando i progressi di ciascuno e le dinamiche che si sono create tra loro:  vedere i nostri piccoli alunni giocare insieme in italiano e assimilare ad ogni lezione moltissime parole, a volte anche apparentemente difficili, per poi riutilizzarle anche a distanza di settimane, e’ stata un’immensa gioia, che ci ricorda come sia per loro facile e naturale abituarsi all’ascolto di suoni diversi da quelli della propria lingua materna e imitarli senza la paura di sbagliare che spesso blocca noi adulti quando impariamo una lingua straniera.

Abbiamo iniziato dalle piccole cose, come imparare i numeri da 1 a 10 contando i gradini nel percorso verso la classe. Un’abitudine semplice che pero’ ha creato grande coinvolgimento nei bambini, che ben presto hanno iniziato a ripetere i numeri senza l’aiuto dell’insegnante. Una volta in classe, poi, largo alla fantasia! Le lezioni si sono sviluppate tra giochi di ogni genere, storie, canzoni e attivita’ creative. Le bambole, per esempio, ci sono servite per presentare ai bambini il lessico legato alla famiglia, cosi’ come il cibo giocattolo e il registratore di cassa sono stati utilizzati nella simulazione dell’attivita’ di fare la spesa in italiano. “Gelato”, “mela”, “pane”, “torta”…in pochi giorni queste e tante altre parole parole sono diventate familiari, e tutto questo tramite il gioco. Le attivita’ sono state personalizzate seguendo i gusti personali dei bambini, per far si’ che le lezioni fossero ancora piu’ divertenti e coinvolgenti. Matilda e Florence, per esempio, amano gli animali, il mare e le fate. Proprio questi sono stati i protagonisti dei nostri giochi, insieme alle canzoni italiane per bambini legate di volta in volta all’argomento della lezione. Sentirle canticchiare “La pappa al pomodoro” o “Ci vuole un fiore” mentre giocavano e’ stata una bellissima sorpresa.

Tra i giochi piu’ amati, vanno citate le piccole sfide del “chi mi sa dire come si chiama…?”. Con grande tenerezza, abbiamo visto i bambini suggerirsi l’un l’altro le parole italiane per guadagnarsi lo stemma della vittoria. Un personaggio molto amato e’ il pupazzo-marionetta Ippopotamo, che, come i nostri piccoli studenti sanno bene, parla solo italiano e non capisce una parola di inglese. Questo piccolo stratagemma  ha fatto si’ che i bambini si impegnassero a rivolgerglisi nella nuova lingua, l’unico mezzo per poter comunicare con questo simpatico amico.
L’italiano come una nuova lingua, insomma, ma, come dicevamo, per qualcuno di loro e’ allo stesso tempo una lingua antica, legata alle proprie radici. Cio’ che e’ certo e’ che per tutti i nostri alunni e’ una lingua divertente e impararla e’…un gioco da ragazzi!

 

English for children: learning through games

Learning English for children aged 5-11 years old, their approach to learning through games

When looking for full immersion for kids in Cambridge, look no further as this year with our English teacher Sima Shimi we had a programme that enhanced the confidence in which our children learned in a fun and effective way. This summer we were fortunate to have kids from Greece, Spain and Japan at La Dante. The parents chose us as we have small classes and English CELTA qualified teachers who use a communication method, use realia and lots of role-play. This summer, as the courses were intensive, we decided to get the children involved in interactive video games from the British Council, Learn with Kids site that allowed them to practice memory games, flash cards, tongue twisters, short stories and a lot more. It was such a good feeling to see Shoichiro Todoroki (Japanese) and Javier Villamayor (Spanish) aged 6 learning so fast: they learned numbers in lots of ways from the small ones 1-10 that they learned going up the steps at the school every day to big numbers that they used with British Council games.
As for Claudia (Spanish) and Sakiko (Japanese) aged 9, they were challenged in the group with memory and shopping games from the British Council Learn with Kids. The younger kids got involved too and learned the vocabulary really fast.

 

The shopping game was very popular of course, they had to use a till to buy toys as well as practicing it with the video game from the British Council Learn with Kids. The involvement of the actual till in the classroom, the toys they liked to buy, the numbers and interactive video games made sure that the kids loved coming over to the lessons, in fact they weren’t lessons in the traditional sense but games, songs and fun based activities with real situations.

In the afternoon, the children spent time at a local Cambridge British school, attending a playscheme where they play action games, do sport activities like rounders and football with British children of the same age. The scheme has been running for the past five years and the results are amazing. The children make friends, build their social skills in English with other children, choose their games as the Playscheme uses a Montessori approach: the children choose what they want to do in the afternoon, who they wish to play with guided by leaders through the day. There are some international children within their groups. All in all it was a successful summer programme this year too and thank the teachers, the kids and the parents for collaborating, see you next summer!!!

What the parents think:
Javier Villamayor:
…what a wonderful time Javier and Claudia had at La Dante in Cambridge! Thank you so much for making possible this wonderful experience for my children!

Atsuko Todoroki:
Sakiko and Shoichiro enjoyed their English class very much, fun based English, nice friends and their teacher was very kind to them. Thank you very much!

English for children: video

Thinking in a Foreign Language: How to Do It and Why

Thinking in a foreign language

Thinking in a foreign language is an important step in the long road that is fluency in a foreign language, but it’s a step that, for some reason, many language learners tend to ignore. Thinking in the language you are learning is not necessarily easy, but it’s something you can practice at any time of the day. Chances are you will NOT wake up one day thinking in a foreign language just because you’ve been learning it for X amount of months/years. Well, it can happen eventually, but I’d like to suggest an alternative that is a bit more, shall we say, efficient, and that will both jump-start your vocabulary acquisition and your fluency. What I’m proposing is that thinking in a new language is a decision you can make, and that you should make from Day 1.

Why Would I Do It?

You might be wondering why anyone would go through the discomfort of trying to think in a foreign language, especially during the early stages or learning. Well, for starters, thinking in the language you’re trying to learn is one of the easiest ways to review the vocabulary and grammatical patterns you’ve recently acquired. Plus, by actually forcing your brain to think in a language it is not used to think in, you’ll also help activate the newly-acquired information by giving you a real-life use for it. This, in turn, will speed-up thepassive-to-active vocabulary transition. In a nutshell, passive vocabulary includes the words stored in verbal memory that people partially “understand,” but not well enough for active use. So you might know the word for “vocabulary” in Spanish (vocabulario), for example, but you might not be able to plug it in a sentence of your own yet if you’re a beginner. Your active vocabulary, on the other hand, includes the words that you canreadily use when speaking and writing.

Another great reason to practice thinking in a foreign language is that, according to a study conducted by University of Chicago psychologists on how language affects reasoning, you will make decisions that will tend to be less biased, more analytic, and more systematic. Why is that? “Because,” according to the study’s lead author Boaz Keysar, “a foreign language provides psychological distance.” So by thinking in a foreign language you will not only be jump-starting your skills in that language, but you’ll also make smarter decisions. Talk about a no-brainer!

How Do I Do It?

So how can you actually start thinking in a foreign language? Is it something that will magically happen after having gone through your 10cm thick textbook? Chances are that won’t happen, unless you make a conscious effort to make it happen. So here are a few tips that I’d like you to try to implement in your daily life.

Language bubbles#1: The first thing that’s really important to do is to create a language bubblearound yourself, especially if you’ve reached an intermediate level or anything above that in your target language (but really, the sooner the better). I’ll go a bit more in detail into this in the “Making the Language a Part of Your Life” section just down below, so don’t stop reading just yet!

#2: The second step is to start making a conscious effort to describe things around you in your target language. One easy way to start when you have a very limited vocabulary is to just look around your room, your neighborhood, and your workplace/school and mentally label whatever you can. If you know colors, scan whatever is around you and think the word for the color of each item you see. If you have recently been learning about furniture, adjectives, or moods, try the same thing with those. Whatever vocabulary and grammatical patterns you are currently learning at the moment, make a conscious effort to think in your target language using those newly-acquired tools. See it as a game, something to enjoy doing.

As you begin to increase your vocabulary little by little, start gradually increasing the complexity of your thoughts by making phrases and by describing what’s going on around you. Don’t jump steps and try expressing complex thoughts that are in sharp contrast with your current level, though. For example, don’t try to say “I wish I would’ve been there” if you are still a beginner in your target language, because the grammar involved is too complex. Instead, simplify what you want to say. You could say something like “I want to go there,” or “I wanted to go there but I couldn’t.” Don’t worry, in due time you’ll reach a point where you’ll be able to say more complex things, there is no rush!

#3: If you are a bit more advanced in your target language, as you go about your day try to think through some typical conversations you would normally have in your native tongue. As you’re leaving your apartment, your neighbor greets you. What would they have said and how would you have replied in your target language? On the way to work, you stop to buy a cup of coffee. How would you order that in your target language? If there are some common words and expressions that you find yourself unable to express, especially on repeated occasions, write them in a small notebook or in your smartphone, and in the evening find the translations. That’s an extremely useful way to quickly gain useful vocabulary that you know you are likely to use in everyday situations.

#4: The last tip here is to speak to yourself or to a camera. If you are ready to put aside your shame, and especially if you don’t have roommates or family members nearby to eavesdrop on you (!), it’s also quite useful to talk to yourself. Aside from being useful in organizing your thoughts, it also allows you to practice pronunciation. If you don’t like the idea of talking to yourself, why not make videos of yourself talking to track your progress? You can organize your videos around themes. For example, in one you might try to talk about the weather, and in another one you might tell your real or fictitious listeners how you began the study of your target language, or which methods you’re using at the moment. Countless language learners and seasoned polyglots do exactly that and regularly post their videos on YouTube. If you do the same, you’ll kill two birds with one stone and be able to connect with other members of the language learning community.

Making the Language a Part of Your LifeBengali computer keyboard

In short, if you want to start thinking in the target language you’re learning, you have to get out of your comfort zone and make the foreign language a part of your life. Don’t be afraid, I promise nothing bad will come out of it! It’s something we all hesitate to do because we are all afraid of the unknown, and we are all afraid of having a feeling of discomfort. Staying in your language bubble and in your comfort zone are easy options, but they are unfortunately not what will bring the best results in terms of foreign language fluency development.

Many people—in fact most people, it seems—approach language learning in a very, how should I put it, “confined” manner. What I mean by this is that they see language learning as something to be “studied” or “learned” during a certain period of time during the day/week, and then everything else they do is somehow totally unrelated to the language they are learning. I often ask my students what they do outside of class to improve their language skills. Nine cases out of ten, they either do nothing or study a bit through their textbook. They basically pat themselves on the back for paying for language lessons, and as soon as the lesson is over they somehow turn a switch in their brain which means they can totally forget about the language they are learning. Many students later wonder why they aren’t somewhat fluent after studying the language for years upon years.

I’ve thought about it and I think that the reason why many people recommend to go abroad to learn a foreign language is that it kind of forces yourself to step outside of your native tongue bubble (although many expats still manage the amazing feat of staying inside their native tongue bubble for years, despite living in a country that speaks an entirely different language). If you go to Spain, for example, you’ll be forced to hear Spanish on the streets, to read signs in Spanish, and perhaps even to listen to Spanish TV and, who could’ve imagined, meet Spanish people who speak Spanish.

But that is still not enough. And, frankly speaking, one doesn’t have to go abroad to immerse oneself in a foreign language (Benny the Irish Polyglot learned Arabic in the middle of Brazil, making use of great websites such as italki to get speaking practice online). “Okay,” you say, “so how can I do it?” Well, here’s a second list of tips that I encourage you to implement in earnest:

#1: Start reading the news and/or blogs in your target language. To get into the habit of doing so, make your homepage (when your browser starts) a page that is in the foreign languageFacebook in Spanish you are learning. For example, every time I open Firefox, I get to see the news in Korean. I just can’t avoid it. I also try to avoid watching the news in English. Or what about Facebook? YouTube? Movie players? These are all websites or programs that have a changeable language option.

#2: If your phone has a “language” option, change the language of your phone to the language you are learning. At first it will be really uncomfortable, but the necessity to understand your phone’s function will soon be strong enough so that you’ll have no choice but to remember a whole lot of new words and become proficient in using your cell phone in a foreign language. I’ve recently switched my phone to Korean and frankly, I don’t know why I didn’t do it earlier.

#3: Watch movies in the target language. When you watch movies in your own language, try to watch them with subtitles in your target language. For example, if you are learning Spanish but decide to watch an American movie, either try to find the same movie dubbed in Spanish, or get the subtitles for it in Spanish. As you listen to the movie, you’ll be reading the entire time in Spanish. This will also tremendously help to increase your reading speed.

#4: The next time you need to install Windows on your computer, ask somebody who speaks your target language to download the version in their language. Just as with a cell phone, it will be really uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get used to it eventually. The same can be done whenever you download programs such as movie players, etc. If you’re still a beginner, that’s not necessarily recommended, but for intermediate learners and higher, it’s worth giving it a try.

#5: Watch YouTube videos in your target language. We all have the urge to do something completely unrelated to the task we have at hand. This is called procrastination. Kill two birds with one stone byprocrastinating in your target language. You’ll be watching stupid videos, but at least they’ll be in a foreign language. Watching stupid stuff in a foreign language is cool.

#6: Listen to music in a foreign language. Not only you will discover new, awesome music, but you’ll be getting used to the language’s flow, intonation, and rhythm. If you feel like it, get the lyrics and sing along your favorite songs. By the way, I’ve recently written a guest post about Korean music on Susanna Zaraysky’s blog. If you’d like to discover new music, check it out here!

Korea Indie Music

#7: Meet friends who speak your target language. Visit a website such as meetup.com or Couchsurfing, join a local club, volunteer, make a language exchange partner online. Whatever you do, remember you have dozens of ways to get to speak in your target language. No excuses.

Couchsurfing Logo

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What do you think? Have you ever tried to force yourself to think in a foreign language? How much are you willing to get out of your comfort zone? What steps are you actively taking to make the language you are learning a part of your life?

By implementing only a few of the many tips I’ve given you today, I am confident that you will see, within a short period of time, a dramatic change in your fluency and in your ability to think in your target language. See it as a game, and as a way of pushing yourself and making language learning more than something that needs to be “studied”. Remember, it’s all about having fun and challenging yourself!

By Lingholic