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Charlie’s language learning journey and Bili

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!

 

https://www.bili.uk.com/

Victoria’s language learning, and teaching story.

Could you tell us about your own language learning journey, at home and school as a child.

 

I remember being interested in languages from an early age.  I was lucky enough as a child to go on family to holidays to France quite a lot (living in Kent made it fairly easy to pop over on the ferry) and I loved trying out phrases my parents taught me.  Normally, buying sweets or asking for ‘frites’ on the campsite.  I was also fascinated with the Netherlands as we have family friends there and I remember dressing up as a Dutch girl for a school summer fayre with the theme of European countries.  When I was in the last year of primary school, a

German lunchtime club was offered which I loved going to.  Moving on to secondary school, I enjoyed both French and German lessons, taking both for GCSE and French for A level.  Following this, I decided to study French at university and start Italian alongside. (I think the incentive of a year abroad was one of the deciding factors for this!)

 

 

What inspired you to love languages?

My teachers at secondary school were very inspiring and I enjoyed all their lessons.  We went on two trips to France with school which were great fun.  I also just enjoyed finding out and learning new vocabulary and for some reason I loved learning French grammar!

 

 

What led you to pass on your love of languages to others through teaching?

 

I have mainly taught in schools located in areas of high deprivation where children don’t often get the opportunities that others would. I think it is really important to widen their horizons and show them there is a world out there with which they can communicate.  I love it when they find out something new about a country or learn a phrase to use.  The children are on a level playing field when learning a language so it gives everyone a chance to shine which is really important, especially for those who may struggle in other areas of the curriculum.  I ran two trips to France at my previous school and the majority of children had never been out of the East Midlands.  It was wonderful to see their fascination when arriving in a different country.

 

Could you tell us about ALL  

 

The Association for Language Learning or ALL is a small charity which promotes language learning and supports teachers in the teaching of languages.  We work closely with a team of volunteers and cultural institutes to provide support and help to anyone teaching a language.  For example, through CPD events, resources, our magazine and research articles.  I think it is important, with the workload of teachers being so high at the moment, that there is good quality support and materials out there to make everyone’s life easier!  I still teach, alongside my role in the office, and the resources and ideas I use from ALL are brilliant. I would urge anyone involved in the teaching of languages to get on board.  We would love to have you as part of our association!

 

Why study abroad with Erasmus?

This week we have a guest post from the lovely Lily. Lily She has just completed her time in Portugal with the Erasmus programme. Lingotastic only exists because of the Erasmus programme, we met in the UK as native German Maik came over with the Erasmus programme. But, enough of our story, over to Lily…

lily sea

Hi I’m Lily and I’m a third year languages student. For the past nine months I have been studying in Portugal as part of the Erasmus programme for my degree. I’m studying French and Portuguese, and usually in the UK it is compulsory to spend the third year of your studies abroad in order to gain firsthand language experience before completing your final year back at your home institution. My university is slightly different in that it does not allow you to split the semesters between countries, so the summer vacations either side of the academic year are crucial if, like me, there’s a second language to maintain! So last summer I was an au pair for a family near Lausanne in Switzerland, and this July I will be following an intensive course in Lyon, France. Hopefully I haven’t forgotten everything!

Languages are unfortunately becoming less and less popular in the UK, as options for GCSEs and A-Levels, and many languages university departments have closed in recent years. It’s a real shame as I’ve found my degree to offer me great flexibility with ideas for the future and opportunities for study. I think I was extremely lucky to have had a truly passionate and engaging French teacher at secondary school for 5 years, and her dedication and inspiration helped me to pursue my eventual degree choice. My French classes at school were taught completely in the target language, and as we were all beginners, this was definitely like being thrown in at the deep end. However, it was certainly the most effective way for me to pick up my first second language, which was far more successful than my attempt with Spanish, the classes for which were taught in English.

When it came to choosing degree programmes, I knew French would figure in the mix in one way or another, and the great thing about most of the degree programmes on offer is that you can normally take a language as an elective module, so you can gain accreditation for language learning even if your degree is in maths or zoology. A joint honours language programme was the route I decided upon, and I chose to learn Portuguese ab initio, taking an accelerated course. Sometimes when I tell people what I study, they ask “why Portuguese?”, and I still don’t have a concrete answer. It’s partly because I wanted to learn a language that was a bit more niche and away from the usual European languages that are taught at schools (not that Portuguese is so very niche with over 200 million speakers worldwide, but still), and I also had hopes to spend the year abroad in Brazil, because it would coincide with the Olympics and I thought that would be a good plan. And saying you can speak Portuguese is normally a good conversation opener when you’re talking to people.

As you can imagine, learning a new language as well as starting university in a new city was quite overwhelming, but we all got there in the end! Because the course was accelerated, we learned most of the grammar and the intricacies of the language very quickly, and as a result my range of vocabulary was quite limited, but this was justified with the reasoning that the year abroad would help fill the gaps. I eventually chose to study in Coimbra, Portugal, mainly due to costs and a few other reasons that made staying closer to home more desirable at the time, and I’m so glad I came here! I’ve still got about a month left in which I need to finish some work and take my final lot of exams, but other than that it’s going to be a time to enjoy and relish my last days in Portugal. Erasmus is such a good opportunity for all students, not just linguists, to participate in, because you’re living in a new country with new people, and you’ve got to adapt pretty quickly to a new culture and vibe; my friend who is studying in Germany came to visit me and she said she had more culture shock coming to Portugal than when she first arrived in her host city. It’s not all coffee drinking and partying.

It’s not all coffee-drinking and partying

It’s not all coffee-drinking and partying

, as many people think Erasmus is (well, it is for some, but this academic year carries a lot of weighting for my final degree classification, so I have had to maintain some work ethic throughout), but there are infinite opportunities to meet people from all over the world, to travel to other countries and cities, and to become well acquainted with another city and country. I think I know more of Portugal than I do of the UK in all honesty now!

As far as I can tell, my language skills have improved, and I can hold a more natural conversation in Portuguese, which was my main goal. I certainly haven’t achieved fluency or anything like it, but I’m more competent and I can understand much more, which is all that I could have asked for. Sure sometimes I can share a joke and laugh with the postman, and other times the waiter can’t really understand what I’m trying to order, but it’s swings and roundabouts, which is what I’ve come to expect with language learning. Also, I’ve developed a genuine love for my third language, which is great, because before I came here my relationship with Portuguese was slightly more love-hate, depending on how well my revision was going on a particular day. I would certainly recommend the Erasmus experience to everyone, even just taking a couple weeks out of the year to study a course somewhere abroad would be a great experience for anyone. It’s the best thing I’ve done in my life so far – I know I’m only young! – and I cannot recommend it enough.

Lily has completed her time in Coimbra, Portugal and in now in Lyon France improving her French. Follow her adventures on Lily has a blog.

Lily group

How did you boost you language skills? Let us know in the comments below, you could even be our next guest blogger!