More on Modern Foreign Language Learning

‘Anybody can learn’

Let’s adopt the teaching methods of legendary language guru Michel Thomas, a new book pleads. Anthea Lipsett finds out why

There’s a belief that languages either come naturally to a person, or they don’t. But to the late Michel Thomas, the “world’s greatest language master”, there was no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher.

It’s a view that grates with prevailing educational opinion. These days, children’s inability to learn is often blamed on a variety of learning disabilities. If teachers are brought into the equation, it is usually by ministers either claiming the workforce is the best trained it has ever been, or declaring that inadequate teachers must be fired.

Thomas believed his method, applied faithfully, would work with anyone. Students saw him as a magician. Now, in his new book The Language Revolution, the educational psychologist Jonathan Solity reveals how Thomas set about teaching foreign languages and the psychological principles behind his methods. He thinks they could revolutionise teaching, and help schools meet targets.

Modern Languages and Dyslexia

I had an interesting meeting at a high school last week with the parents of a boy who has just started S1. They felt that his dyslexic difficulties meant he should be withdrawn from French and he should receive extra tuition in English language skills. 

I re-read a couple of excellent papers by Margaret Crombie, (Cognition and Learning Difficulties and Foreign Language Learning and Dyslexia), before dipping into LT Scotland’s superb resource, Maximising Potential. I also referred to Moira Thomson’s work for Dyslexia Scotland, Supporting Dyslexic Pupils in the Secondary School.

While all are agreed that foreign language learning presents young people with difficulties unique challenges, it is also the case that they have a right to be exposed to a different language and culture.

The conclusion we came to at the meeting was that the student should be able to access a variety of learning experiences, with a multi-sensory, cumulative focus, with an emphasis on talking and listening. He should have to write in French only rarely. When I have worked with teachers in MFL departments I have often been struck by their ability to make learning fun, to motivate young people with games and technology, to appeal to all different learning styles. They seem to know that variety is the spice of learning!