This week we have an interview with an inspirational language learner Charlie and hear his project Bili.
Could you tell us about your own language learning journey, at home and school as a child.
I started learning French at primary school, and soon after began to learn Latin. I think this helped me get my head around new languages relatively quickly, and made me a bit of a life-long grammar geek.
When we had options to choose an extra language I chose German, probably mostly because of a conversation I had with my teacher who recommended German because it was ‘harder’ and I could pick up Spanish anytime… (Still working on that one)! The nature of learning a language ‘little and often’ fitted much better with my approach than more content-filled subjects, where last-minute cramming never really paid off for me!
This conversation really stuck with me, and I began to think of myself as someone who was quite good at languages. I remember this as a pivotal moment that set me on a path through GCSEs, A-levels, a degree, year abroad and into teaching and setting up Bili. As a teacher, I’d try to remind myself how much impact those little chats or passing comments can have on our students.
What inspired you to love languages?
Having a positive attitude set me on a good course in languages but didn’t yet make me love them. My real love for languages was really sparked by the doors it opened for me, through a combination of travelling, living abroad, and getting to know a culture and people different from my own.
For me, a love of languages comes from a love of communication, which fulfils one of the most natural and human urges to connect with other people. The more languages you learn, and the better you learn them, the more interesting and different people you can connect with on a deeper level.
What led you to pass on your love of languages to others through teaching?
Even as a student I understood that not everyone felt the same way about learning languages I did. For years MFL teachers have struggled against a decline in uptake of languages at a higher level, often low motivation in class and some quite strong societal pressures that English is enough. Contrasted with the economic need for languages (it’s estimated that we lose £50 billion every year through lack of language skills), and the more simple desire to learn languages (Ask any adult a skill they regret not learning- chances are they will say a musical instrument and a language!); it’s clear we have a problem.
I wanted to play a part in making sure that children were given the same chance I was, to learn and love languages.
Could you tell us about Bili. (What is it and why will it help our readers?)
Bili was an idea that only came about through my direct experience working as a teacher. I was becoming frustrated by the contrived nature of the dreaded controlled assessment, jumping through hoops for exams, and parroting back ‘A* phrases’ about holidays or free time activities.
I wanted to find a context where students could share with someone who was genuinely interested, and vice versa. I wanted a way to connect my students to young people abroad to regularly and purposefully communicate with one another. Since I couldn’t find one… I ended up setting it up for myself 😊
Bili enables teachers from different countries to connect their students in a structured and secure environment to complement their learning in the classroom, applying what they have learnt in a real context. Learners can share real information about their lives with Bili-pals the same age, whilst discovering another culture & language, and supporting one another on their language learning journey. Students actively want to communicate and a real-person at the other end provides a strong motivation. Regular tasks, higher motivation and valued performance feedback coming from peers all save the teacher time and increase impact.
We’re always keen to welcome new schools to Bili, whether you simply want to trial with a class, sign up to build on an existing relationship with a partner school abroad, or find a new school to connect with through Bili!