How can students (and teachers) learn 15 languages, or more, in an hour without leaving the classroom? Three PYP teachers share how they turn learning a new language into a fun and exciting journey of discovery that inspires confidence and an appreciation of different cultures.
There is a Turkish proverb that says, ‘One who speaks only one language is one person, but one who speaks two languages is two people.’ Well, if you have taken part in a year of Language Fridays at River Oaks Elementary IB World School, in Houston, Texas, USA, you may be 16 people by now.
After discovering last year that 15 different languages were spoken in her classroom, Dottie Price, Year 3 PYP teacher, created Language Fridays: a whistle-stop tour around the world in half an hour. Every Friday afternoon, 30 minutes were set aside for students to volunteer to teach their mother tongue to classmates. In the first week, seven students taught Farsi, Russian, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Bengali, Telugu, and German. There were more volunteers for the next week, and each week thereafter. Students got more creative over time by sharing songs, dances, stories, clothing, video clips and artifacts. Price took a guest spot in the line-up a couple of times, sharing some German, Italian and a song in Sinhala.
“There is power in making a practice routine,” says Price. “Whether daily yoga or math facts drills, a small period of practice done regularly produces results.”
This weekly activity, which Price has continued with this year, helped with name pronunciation and encouraged students to learn about their own native counties and cultures and those of their classmates. For some, it was the first time they had embraced their language. Students would take this enthusiasm home and ask their parents to teach them more.
“Some were embarrassed at first, but soon became more confident,” says Price. “Joshua, who spoke Farsi, was embarrassed at the beginning. But by the end of the year, his mother was telling me that this was the first time he had showed an interest in learning and was now talking fluently with his grandmother. Joshua proved to be a natural and charismatic teacher.”
Taking language learning out of the classroom, Osama Abujafar, PYP PE teacher from Greenfield Community School (GCS), in Dubai, teaches Arabic during his lessons and integrates it into games.
“I started using Arabic language for simple instructions such as ‘stand up’ and ‘sit down’,” explains Abujafar. “We play games with Arabic instructions too. For example, if we are playing a ‘stand and freeze’ game where students have to stand on a particular coloured line upon my instruction, I will shout out the colours in Arabic.”
GCS is an English-speaking school and has 1,300 students from 87 countries. For the majority of students, neither English or Arabic is their first language. However, every student must learn Arabic. “Students who are not natives can find Arabic very difficult,” says Abujafar. “I discussed this with the Principal and we thought about introducing an after-school activity – but we wanted to make learning Arabic a part of the school culture, and something we do daily. That’s how the idea to introduce it to PE lessons came about.”
Abujafar adds, “It helps us develop the curriculum in a fun way. When learning a new language is delivered through an active lesson, it has more impact than sitting at a desk.”
Abujafar will also ask students to give their classmates instructions in their mother-tongue, and as well as learning a huge range of different dialects as a result, Abujafar and his students have found that there are some common words shared between different languages. “Interestingly, the pronunciation for ‘orange’ in Greek is the same in Arabic,” explains Abujafar.
Price has found this too. “My favourite thing is when they discover connections between their languages that we didn’t know existed. Students always speak up when they notice the similarities and it starts great discussions. It’s been a fantastic exploration and mind opener for everyone.”
At Tara Anglican School for Girls, in New South Wales, Australia, Spanish is integrated into other lessons and teachers learn alongside their students. “Learning a second language and breaking it down can be difficult so integrating it into units of inquiry has been successful,” explains Richard Curtis, PYP Coordinator.
“Teachers learning Spanish alongside the students and being highly involved is very exciting,” he adds. “Often a great deal of incidental Spanish comes through in other lessons as a result of the teacher continuing the learning.”
Using this method has promoted international mindedness, says Curtis: “Because Spanish is a widely spoken language, it helps students take a global perspective. Their interest in Spanish-speaking countries and knowledge makes them more aware and understanding of the world. They are able to transfer some of their ideas into other contexts without them being in a lesson for an hour. This also fits with the IB Learner Profile of being caring and appreciative.”
Although it’s been extra work for the PYP teachers and a huge amount of flexibility has been required to respond to student inquiry, the results have been impressive. “Students are leaving school speaking Spanish phases after only one year of the programme,” says Curtis. “We’re seeing results we would previously achieve after five or six years of the programme, and our teachers love learning together with their students.”
Long haul learning
It’s been a voyage of discovery for Price too. “It’s such a delight to have exposure to all these different languages, and I will always associate them with the students who introduced them to me,” she says.
“That’s the most important thing about teaching – realizing that everybody has such value. Everybody is someone to learn from if you take the time to discover.”
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