(a long and boring post which is only here because it’s too much hassle to type this into twitter)

Why am I linking NCELP’s teaching materials to their learning goals? I mean other than the fact that to claim the two are not closely linked is – frankly – churlish, here are a ‘mountain’, indeed a ‘mass’ of reasons why.

NCELP itself – its whole raison d’être – is based on the principle that there is a relationship between what is taught and what is learned. Hence the wholly unproblematic assertion that “vocabulary teaching is a core component of foreign language learning” [emphasis mine]. Ergo NCELP’s teaching materials, including its vocab lists, can be considered to be a core part of what the intended learning is. NCELP has that posh word for “teaching” in its name, but it’s vocabulary work is written in the context of what it thinks students need to know, i.e. learn (hence the business with Zipfian curves in its slide shows, hence the preoccupation with high frequency words, priority, etc etc). NCELP itself says that we need to teach in a certain way in order that students learn the things that NCELP thinks they should learn.

If Paul Nation and others can make a career out of the relationship between input and uptake, then I sure as hell can make a tweet out of it. I asserted that what is taught in the NCELP ‘method’ is heavily related to what is learned, and this was met with a certain (and not unpatronising) derision. Yet I think anyone with the faintest interest in SLA will be comfortable with the idea that input relates to uptake. In other words, teaching relates to learning. The irony here is that early career teachers might struggle with this distinction between the two insofar as students don’t learn everything we teach them, or learn something different (i.e. incorrect, or personal to them). It’s rarely a problem that a student leaves a lesson having learned far more vocabulary than we taught them. Anyway, let’s be logical for a moment.

The only ways what is learned can exceed what is taught in a UK ML classroom setting would realistically be:
a) meaningful exposure to additional input outside of the classroom and directed homework tasks, or
b) additional words that are learned through exposure / implicit learning in the classroom

…so let’s take those propositions in turn, in the light of the NCELP materials.

a) Does NCELP envisage significant meaningful exposure to additional input outside of the classroom/homeworks? I guess this is the world of Paul Nation – extensive reading programmes whereby students would consume huge amounts of non-taught input and make steady vocabulary gains. I’ve seldom – if ever – come across this in a mainstream UK secondary ML classroom. And it would be a pretty big deal if NCELP were to be advocating this. And they haven’t mentioned this anywhere, so we can safely assume that this isn’t what they have in mind.

So that leaves b) is it envisaged that students learn more than what is in the specified vocab lists, through exposure within the teaching materials If this were the case, I’d expect to see teaching materials – texts, slides, etc – which were lexically different – richer, more heavily loaded – than the vocab lists themselves. I can’t see evidence of that when I compare lesson materials with the vocab lists. I guess I’d also expect to hear NCELP refer to the crucial contribution to learning made by incidental exposure: How is it supposed to done? Which words are they supposed to be? How is it supposed to be sequenced and loaded? How am I supposed to know whether it’s happening? NCELP does present its work as a comprehensive methodology, after all, with claims of excellence and research-led integrity. (Whether it’s these rather bold claims that are the problem, btw, rather than the materials themselves, which are definitely no worse than the rest of what’s out there, is another matter, for another debate, another day)

So if it is indeed intended that students learn more than what’s in the vocab lists, then:

i) it isn’t apparent from the input itself
ii) they don’t talk about it, so it isn’t clear how teachers are expected to make this assumption, or operationalise it, or create the conditions for it to happen

Given that there’s no trace of the intended incidental learning in the NCELP scripture, nor any obvious trace of it in the input itself, we can safely assume, for now, that the vocab lists are therefore a decent representation of the intended learning. These lists add up to less than 2000 words. On the “2k priority” principle (lest we forget, legacy input is criticised by NCELP for including rare words at the expense of more common ones), this would mean that learners should be learning no >2k words at all. But, I’m pleased to say, the vocab lists do feature words beyond 2k after all – at about a rate of 1 in 10. Which leads me to the question: which ones, and why? Are they arbitrary? Random? Personal fave? We are heading towards a GCSE with a defined vocab list (with receptive skills papers testing only words on this list as to do anything else would be, in the words of the Chair of the review, “unfair”). So what’s on this list matters, as they (? NB overlap between NCELP and close advisors to HM Government) are making unilateral and – apparently evidenced – judgements about which words make the cut and which don’t. This is, of course, one of the myriad reasons why Governments and awarding bodies around the world avoid definitive lists in the first place, and rightly so. You’ll be aware of the debates surrounding the usefulness of the AWL. Anyway, what’s also interesting about this is that the very organisation which says we should be picking words on the basis of evidence appears to say one thing, but do something else: pick some extra words – 10% or so – as they choose. Oh and by the way, the NCELP vocab list isn’t that dissimilar in frequency profile to the vocab lists in the ML textbooks already out there. 70% ish K1 lemmas; 80-90% K2. So I’m not entirely sure how we’ve moved on anyway.

Enfin bref. There is, of course, an elephant in the room. What’s holding English ML learners back in their communicative ability – let’s be clear – is not the balance of words they’re learning, it’s the quantity. So much ink and airtime of NCELP’s vocab work is based on which words to choose. But the real factor driving communicative ability is how much students know.

NCELP often refers to the 852 figure as the number of words known by UK GCSE students of French. It’s way short of the golden 2000 and way, way, way behind continental teenagers learning LOTE. The figure dates from a 2006 study by J. Milton. There was a 2008 study by A. David which presented an even bleaker picture. In fairness, NCELP states some vocab learning goals – 360 odd per year – which are somewhat beyond what most UK students currently achieve, and this is a step forward. But as I have shown, this goal still leaves us some way short of the 2000 threshold generally accepted to be a marker of gist comprehension and flexible communicative ability. Let’s not forget that many/most learners will probably not learn all the 360 words per year. Although I’d like them to, of course.

If NCELP really wanted to make a difference to communicative ability through the vocab route – which I applaud, given the weight of evidence linking lexis to proficiency and acquisition – then they’d be making it crystal clear just how important it is to properly stare the necessary vocab goals in the eye and spell out what this means. I.e. they’d be making a loud and vociferous case for a much meatier vocab outcome by GCSE. In the UK we say that GCSE = B1 (Ofqual). But take a look at B1 overseas – and the research which links B1 to lexis – and the B1 descriptors – and you can clearly see that for B1 you really do need to be at 2k words.

2000 words by year 11? That means that students need 444 words per year , based on a 4.5 year GCSE course. That means more than 12 words per week, every week, for 36 weeks, from year y 7 to y11. That’s only allowing for a meagre 3 weeks of assessments / time off timetable. That’s a very tall order, even for schools with the luxury of 2hrs MFL per week from year 7, which is increasingly rare. To say this publicly would go down like a lead balloon – as NCELP would be basing its method on a model which just isn’t viable in so many UK schools. But they also can’t afford to set a goal of less than 2000, because that would mean Government making a very public, rather awkward admission that you can’t have the fluency, spontaneity & authenticity to which GCSE pretends to aspire on a more realistic vocab goal that would actually work in schools. And it would mean a [Conservative] Government very measurably and obviously lowering standards. Not politically viable. There is a mismatch between the standard we say the exam is, and the vocab we’re prepared to say needs to accompany it.

So it shouldn’t surprise us that NCELP isn’t more forthcoming about an explicit vocab goal. But for everyone’s benefit, they probably should be. And it would move us on from this convenient side-show about the top 2k. A side-show which will get us nowhere, fast.

Lost for words? Where we might be going wrong in the teaching of reading

As teachers, we’ve all had that sinking feeling in year 11: students don’t seem to know enough words to excel in the reading and listening papers, and are flummoxed by the grammar and sentence structure. Deep down we know that at least some of the marks they do gain are the fruit of guesswork. If you’ve ever felt anything like this, you’re not alone, and we see it in the marks that students score at GCSE. Take 2019 AQA GCSE French, for example, where average marks in the receptive (listening & reading) papers lagged considerably behind marks in papers testing the productive skills (speaking and writing).

AQA GCSE French Higher Tier Average % score
Listening 51
Reading 65
Writing 73
Speaking 72

Researchers have identified that there is indeed a vocab “gap” at GCSE: The official vocab list for AQA is about 1,400 lines, yet Milton (2006) identified that students sit the exam with only around 950 words under their belt; progress in acquiring new words stalls dramatically in years 8, 9 and 10. There is no data anywhere to suggest that this situation has improved or is improving. Milton also finds that as a country, we’re getting worse, not better.

So, where are we going wrong? Why can’t students read?

Comprehensible input

Perhaps the most dominant of all concepts in how we should teach reading in MFL today is that of ‘comprehensible input’. It dates back to Krashen’s core hypothesis that we can create the best conditions for L2 acquisition if we look at how we learn our mother tongue. Today as teachers, we are frequently told by commentators, trainers and people selling us resources that the texts we use in lessons should be 95-98% comprehensible – i.e. contain maximum 1 in 20 (and ideally fewer) new words. If we teach in this way, we are told, this helps students learn the words and structures we’re teaching them, and helps students be fluent. This is the defence given when people like me say that we should be reading more interesting and ambitious texts in the MFL classroom. No!, they say. Comprehensibility is king! The key is comprehensibility and repetition, and this is more important than giving students high quality texts – such is the received wisdom.

Most frequently, commentators refer to the work of Paul Nation to justify this assertion. The problem is, though, that’s not what Paul Nation said. Below I lay out the differences between Paul Nation’s work, and how it has been (mis-)construed in the UK teaching environment.

Paul Nation’s work in 2000 and 2006 The UK context today
The research finding Nation found that texts need to be composed of 95-98% known words for students to be able to understand the text: he wanted to know “what percentage coverage of text is needed for unassisted reading pleasure” The message has been distorted to say that Texts need to be composed of 95-98% known words for students to be able to learn new aspects of language. Comprehensible input is sold to us as a method which makes learners fluent: that’s not what Nation/Hu said.
Type and mode of reading Nation was proposing that teachers adopt “extensive reading programmes” within their curricula: i.e. students should read a book every two weeks and read 4,200 words per week. He felt that only highly (95-98%) comprehensible texts would be suitable for this vast volume of reading as students couldn’t afford to be slowed down We don’t do anything approaching “extensive reading” in UK classrooms: we read less than one quarter of that amount per week at best, and it is very rare to find MFL courses in schools where students are expected to read widely beyond lesson time
Research context Nation’s research was based on undergraduate level learners of English who had already what we could consider a very advanced level of English – who were looking to acquire much rarer words and phrases. They already had the grammar under their belts. Our students have only very basic knowledge of vocab and generally are still getting on top of core linguistic features such as tenses and negation. They’re looking to learn the first 1000-1500 words of the TL – not the 5000th, 6000th, 7000th words.
Academic discourse There was, has been and continues to be healthy academic debate about the validity of Nation’s assertions. Cobb (2007, 2008), for example, rejects the whole hypothesis of “extensive reading programmes” as a valuable and realistic component of a language course. Schmitt et al (2011) rejected the idea of a 95% “cut-off” and suggested that a larger range of texts have value, along a continuum, depending on context. Nation’s work tends to be presented to us as irrefutable fact: it isn’t, and never was.

There are some other key flaws, though, specific to the UK classroom context which we need to be mindful of when we are considering the relevance of the 95-98% comprehensibility rule to UK classrooms:

  1. Mixed ability classrooms. We know that, even in schools which set by ability, there is a huge variety of ability and proficiency among our 30 or so students. So we might design a text which is 95-98% comprehensible – but in reality…
    • for some it will be far too easy and their vocab won’t progress
    • for others it will be far too hard – and barely comprehensible at all (sub 75%, let’s say)
      … so what this means is that by thinking too much about the text, we sometimes don’t think enough about individual learners and their experience of it.
  2. A blunt measurement tool. Up until GCSE, most learners are really beginners, and they will struggle with all sorts of things beyond vocab: tense structures, irregular forms, idiomatic usage (e.g. the verb plaire à), unfamiliar word order and unfamiliar use of tense (e.g. depuis, venir de, absence of present continuous in FR). So measuring a text in terms of the number of unknown words is pretty simplistic – and doesn’t help us get a true sense of what might be difficult about a text. Remember, what’s often hard about a GCSE text is its unexpected twist in meaning, it’s distractors or its atypical ordering of information. None of this is picked up in the 95% comprehensibility test.
  3. The GCSE itself. While people wanting to sell us their resources or training might want us to believe that comprehensible input is the silver bullet (after all, they need us to think that, otherwise we wouldn’t buy their stuff!), the writers of GCSE simply don’t sign up to this cosy consensus. The blunt truth is this: GCSE texts are nowhere near 95-98% comprehensible. Here’s an example from AQA French 2018 (higher tier):
    aqa reading - Copy
  4. Have a look at the vocab here: it’s tricky! It’s way beyond 95-98% comprehensible for a GCSE student and contains many words that aren’t on AQA’s own GCSE vocab list. A student who has been taught using highly comprehensible texts will flounder when they read this – as they need very good lexical inferencing skills (Nassaji and Hu 2012) or “morphological problem solving” skills (Anglin, quoted in Hu 2013) to make sense of what they see. Even if they can hazard a guess at the questions that AQA asks of this text, students will struggle to really understand it, and feel very uncertain of themselves. By the way, if you think this all boils down to GCSEs just getting harder and harder, have a look at this GCSE text from 1991: 1991 writing_2
  5. Comprehensible input isn’t sufficient
    So now for some maths – bear with me! Let’s assume the following:
    a) students receive a weekly average of 1000 words input (including reading & listening) in MFL lessons (based on typical textbook coverage, adding a bit for teacher TL use and homeworks)
    b) students are in lessons for 38 weeks per year
    c) students spend 4.5 years preparing for GCSE – allowing for absence, assessment weeks, missed lessons, etc
    d) students need to encounter a word at least 8 times before they really can learn and know it (this is a very optimistic figure – as Nation (2014) points out, the real number is probably much higherThis allows us to project how many words a student might work, through their exposure to comprehensible input, based on various scenarios.
    – with an average of 98% comprehensible input, a student would learn 95 words per year and 438 over the whole course
    – with an average of 95% comprehensible input, a student would learn 238 words per year and 1071 over the whole courseHow accurate are my projections? Well, Milton and Meara (1998) and Milton (2006) have done research to work out the average number of words that GCSE students have under their belt by testing students themselves – and their figure was approx 850. So my figures tally with theirs, and reflect a use of texts with comprehensibility of around 96% (or slightly higher, if we think students need fewer encounters with a word to learn it) across English schools.The problem with this? Well, AQA’s own GCSE French vocab list is 1359 items long – not to mention all the irregular verb forms. That’s a gap of significantly more than 20%. Using the same model, I also calculate that to reach the 1400 words needed for coverage of the specified vocab list, students would need to read considerably more than they currently do – which seems unrealistic given the limited lesson time we all have. Specifically, using the same assumptions:
    – to learn 1400 words based on average 95% comprehensibility, students need an average 1310 words input per week during KS3 and KS4 (this would be very challenging at KS3!!)
    – to learn 1400 words based on average 98% comprehensibility, students need a whopping 3275 words input per week during KS3 and KS4: this is palpably not achievable in the vast majority of settings.

So if comprehensible input is imperfect – perhaps flawed – what does the evidence say we need to do about it?

Comprehensible input is still valuable – but as a guiding principle it is flawed. The key point that research consistently makes is that learning languages is not all about repetition. That’s contrary to a lot of what we read or are told: games, hacks and tools which ‘trick’ students into repeating words or phrases over, and over, and over again are widely praised and shared (and sold). Yet the man who came up with the 95-98% comprehensibility test himself (Paul Nation, 2015) says that it is not the quantity of encounters with words that matters most, but the quality of those encounters. He even says that the cognitive benefit of students stopping to read, looking up a word in the dictionary and finding its meaning outweighs the cost of any slowdown in pace of reading that this might incur (ibid.). MFL teaching in the UK really is behind the curve on this one. So if repetition isn’t the be-all-and-end-all, what else is important, according to the literature?
1.Content matters because it is the driver of motivation. If students are interested in reading what we give them, they will put more effort in, and learn more, as Hulstijn (1996) wrote:

“First and foremost, assign learners reading texts that are interesting and motivating. If the text does not alert their curiosity, learners will not be willing to devote the required mental effort to unfamiliar words”.

More recently than this, Macalister (2015) and Day et al (2002) insist that the natural and genuine purpose of reading must be preserved in the MFL classroom. In other words, we can’t j
ust dish up any old bland nonsense because it fits our scheme of work – the text has to be worthy in and of itself: the purpose of reading is usually related to pleasure, information and general understanding”. As Williams pithily put it in 1986, as his very first core principle of teaching using texts in MFL, “in the absence of interesting texts, very little is possible”. If the text we’re using in class is bland and boring, then getting them to learn is going to be like pushing a train up a hill. I like Haastrup’s (1989) quote below in Hulstijn’s (1996) work; some of it is a little anachronistic now, but is core assertion is right.

“‘Learners will always find out the meaning of words that are important to them’ (p43). If a desire to know a word’s meaning is the driving force, the mental elaboration required for acquisition will then come of its own accord. However it is the teacher’s and course designer’s task to provide learners with easily accessible glosses and learner-friendly, nontedious review opportunities”.

2.The type of task matters: we need to maximise deep cognitive engagement – in other words, get students thinking and working hard, not just quickly and superficially.

Nassaji and Hu (2012) found that tasks that enquire “deeper level of cognitive effort and attention enhance vocabulary learning”. They encourage teachers to maximise students’ “involvement” in the tasks they are doing, both motivationally and cognitively, and encourage teachers to design tasks with the following characteristics:
– motivation to read the text and understand what it says needs to be high – i.e. use engaging texts!
– effort needs to be involved in searching for the meaning of new words
– tasks need to involve evaluation of the topic and the words

Williams in 1986 indeed asserted that reading should be an interactive process, requiring students to respond and react to a text, not just comprehend it. His work is old now, but I don’t think it’s outdated.
3.Proficiency matters: Many researchers have found that more proficient students can cope with more unknown vocab and remember more of it more successfully (Sheffelbine 1990): so the 95-98% comprehensibility rule should be flexible – and definitely lower for our more able students. Frequent encounters and repetition matter more less able learners.
4.How we deal with new words matters: Hulstijn (1996) and others remind us of obne of the basics: Never leave new words to guesswork, always gloss them or insist on dictionary use always follow up new words with intentional, directed practice of words that students have seen whilst reading. If we do this well, we can cope with more unknown words.
5.We can tackle ‘harder’ texts: We can read things which are less than 95% comprehensible and still learn effectively (MacQuillan 2016, Schmitt et al 2011, Sanchez and Schmitt 2010). My hunch is that this isn’t an option if we want our students to get top grades – it’s an absolute must, and we need to adapt our teaching, differentiation and styles of tasks to make it possible. Should we make texts which are 85%, 90% comprehensible the mainstay of our classroom resources? Probably not, but they have to appear sometimes.

Milton (2011) openly advocates for faster progression in MFL vocab in the formative years of y8, y9 and y10. Finding that progress in these years almost grinds to a halt, he argues that this is a consequence of too little new vocab being introduced, too much thematic repetition and not enough inclusion of the less-frequent words which are actually necessary for any sense of communicative fluency. He argues that while for some, this repetition of topics and core vocab might be presented as a virtue, the other side of the coin is that it limits progress and makes for “demotivated learners”. He makes the case for a richer, more varied seam of themes and topics during the secondary year, a healthier balance of frequent and less frequent vocab.

OK so what does this mean for me as a teacher?

Firstly, despite all this, highly comprehensible texts still have an important role and they will still need to be a major tool in our toolkit. But they’re not the only one, and we need to think about how we deploy them.

  • how comprehensible – or not – is the text for each student in my class?
  • is everyone stretched and challenged in the right way?
  • is everyone making maximum progress?
  • if I can’t adapt each text for each student (almost definitely the case!), then do I use a variety of different grades of text so that each student has opportunities to surge ahead during a few weeks?
  • am I doing activities with the new words which guarantee a high return-on-investment, i.e. activities which are cognitively demanding?

Secondly, we need to acquaint students with tricky texts, right the way through the course, so that they are at ease with this when they sit their exam. This means teaching them lexical inferencing skills (Nassaji and Hu) like:

  • spotting key letter patterns and word families (chaud -> chaleur -> chaleureux etc)
  • contextual clues (Zahar 2001: does the text give a clue to the meaning of a word? what kind of clues might exist?)
  • good knowledge of the topics being taught

Thirdly, it is imperative to select texts which maximise students’ motivation and investment. Williams (1986) urged teachers to give a bunch of classroom texts to students to rate, and ask them to categorise them as “interesting”, “all right” or “boring”. I think we know what students would make of the vast majority of KS3 and KS4 resources. I try to apply these three questions each time I’m choosing or creating a resource:

1.Is this the best text I could use to teach this?

2.Are they going to want to read this?

3.What are they learning, beyond just the words?

So here’s a summary for you of what I hope this blog has suggested:

  • reading is a problem at KS3 and KS4
  • the original research into comprehensible input is quite different from how it is presented to us today
  • there are some drawbacks of comprehensible input and the volume of reading it requires when dealing with the English GCSE, or indeed mixed ability classrooms
  • that repetition of input isn’t the only important thing: the content of the text and the nature of the tasks associated with the text are more important
  • comprehensible input will always have a role, but we should make sure that we prepare students for the reality of GCSE by teaching students how to make sense of harder texts – and also find ways to teach which enable us to use harder texts where the potential gains are bigger

Do I say this because I care solely about getting students through the GCSE? Well, unsurprisingly, no. I also recognise that real life doesn’t deliver “comprehensible input” – even in things like restaurant menus, weather forecasts and ticket machines. More importantly, I want students to continue with their studies of MFL at A-level and beyond. Students will look at the A-level course spec and see that they have to read a book. Unless they’ve been shown and taught trickier texts throughout KS3 and KS4, and see themselves as skilled, perceptive readers, they will rightly balk at the idea of reading a book in Y12 or Y13. And they’ll think we’re crackers when we say that they’re going to have to read one.

Select Bibliography – click link below

Select Bibliography

Using film in MFL

On this page you’ll find two videos.

  • The first is a general guide to some of the activities we can explore in the classroom, using film as a platform, to develop listening, speaking, reading and writing
  • The second gives specific suggestions on teaching using the film Les contes de la périphérie

1. General film ideas

2. Les contes de la périphérie

This video is based on Nikolaj Larsen’s Contes de la Banlieue, available free online (including via http://www.culturetheque.com) and I chose it because:

  • it’s about, and in many ways by young people of a similar age to our learners
  • the topics it cover absolutely cater to GCSE but take the imagination far further than GCSE

Apologies – this video was a lockdown idea, and is a little unrehearsed, but you’ll get tbe idea…

Culturally evocative, high frequency vocab for GCSE French and German

This list isn’t exhaustive – it’s the result of an hour or so brainstorming during lockdown.   I would not expect my GCSE candidates to know all this vocab. But I would want them to know what a lot of it means and why I taught it to them. I also strongly encourage my students to use this kind of vocab in speaking exams and written work.

Words made it onto these lists for all sorts of reasons:

  • they allow me to digress into a little story about the TL world – to help them develop positive attachments to TL speakers, places and identities
  • they’re fun to use, expressive or unique to the TL
  • they’re linguistically interesting (help me learn about the structure or develoment of the TL)
  • they’re my personal faves… and I love telling my students about my favourite words. Like gescheit.



greetings Messieurs dames

Mesdames et Messieurs

Fais comme chez toi

Bonjour, bonsoir

Bonne journée, bonne soirée

ça va / ça gaze / quoi de neuf / wesh


bon app(étit), bonne route, bonne continuation

Meine Damen und Herren

die Herrschaften !

hereinspaziert !

Servus, grüezi, hallo

Na ? Was’ los?

Alles klar?

Grüß Gott

Mahlzeit ! Guten Appetit ! Lass dir schmecken!

Hobbies, free time, leisure vélo vocab : le Tour, le vélo, le maillot jaune, rouleur, attaque, domestique

hand, pétanque, pelota

Les Bleus

traîner, glander


s’amuser=se régaler


grasse matinée

nuit blanche

cinéma, cinéaste, auteur

lire des BD

rappeurs, tecktonik, chanson



wandern, Bergsteigen


zum Hallen-/Freibad gehen

Schlagermusik hören


sturmfrei haben

Feierabend !

zum Sport gehen

Bundesliga, WM/EM

Trainer, Schiedsrichter, Torwart

meine Habseiligkeiten




Self, family, relationships, identity le pacs, pacsé

mes vieux

verlan: reum, reup

babtou, toubab

black, blanc, beur

rebeu, renoi, métisse

le bled


lourd, relou

énervant, vénère

louche, chelou

avoir la tchatche



liberté, égalité, franternité, solidarité

valeurs républicaines

la Ve République

chrétien, musulman

avoir les papiers

Mama / Mutti

Papa / Vati















katholisch, evangelisch, muslimisch




Clothes & shopping chic



gilet (jaune!)

parfumerie, parfum

boutique / grand surface

hypermarché / superette



Hausschuhe /


Tracht : Dirndl, Lederhose


House, home, region immeuble


banlieue, banlieusard


Ile-de-France / en province






terrain vs terroir

régions: Languedoc, Provence, Bretagne, Aqutaine, Pays Baque, Alpes, Bourgogne, Franche-Comté, Wallonie, Normandie, etc

la patrie

Wohnung, WG

Innenhof, Vorderhaus

Haus (means sth different)






Regions: Rheinland, Baden, Schwaben, Bayern, Sachsen, Tirol, Steiermark, Südtirol


Wir können alles. Außer Hochdeutsch.


Vaterland, Muttersprache

Food, diet, health boulangerie/viennoiserie: baguette, pain au chocolat (maxi-chocolat !)

café au lait / express / p’tit noir

formule / à la carte

entrée / plat / déssert

« du jour »

« maison »


croque (monsieur/madame)



amuse-bouche 😊

steak : à point, seignant, bleu, medium, bien cuit

moules marinières

fromages : chèvre, gruyère, brie, comté

plats/spécialités : soupe de poissons, salade niçoise, tartiflette, fondue savoyarde, aligot (mmm)

vin : rouge, blanc, rosé, champagne, crémant

mousse au chocolat

crêpes suzette

bière (blonde)



Wurst (Bock-, Weiß-, Blut-, Brat-)

Currywust (m/o Darm; m/o Senf; Pommes dazu?)




Brötchen/Stulle/Schrippe/Semmel usw


Bier: Helles/Pils, Weiß-


Wiener Melange


zusammen oder getrennt?

Festivals and national calendar Réveillon

14 juillet

les grandes vacances





1. Mai

Tag der deutschen Einheit


Mariä Himmelfahrt

der Krampus



Christkind / Sankt Nikolaus





School & education CM1, CM2, etc

école maternelle

collège, collégien

lycée, lycéen

bac, bachelier

bac blanc

tronc commun / spécialité

cours magistral

délégué de classe

instituteur, prof




contrôle continu


grande école


lettres (modernes)




KiTa / Kindergarten


gymnasiale Empfehlung

Gymnasium / Real-, Haupt-, Gesamtschule / Klausur








Ausbilugn, AzuBi


Fachhochschule / Universität


Bilungshoheit der Länder?

Careers hôtellerie-restauration


fonction publique / fonctionnaire

chef d’une PME


la retraite

smic, smicard

syndicat, syndicalisme




créateur de mode




AG, GmbH




den Dienst antreten






Beamte, verbeamtet



Holidays le grand départ

juilletistes, aoûtiens

la rentrée

baignade interdite

station de ski

station balnéaire

à l’étranger



autoroute du soleil











Heimat(-gefühl), Geborgenheit


Travel RER






Bison futé





deutsche Bahn





kein Tempolimit




favourite little words enfin bref

bon ben…



tu vois, voyons, écoute

bordel de merde!








Ach Mensch!



Deutscher Sprachatlas: discovering linguistic diversity in the classroom

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Interactive map of accents and dialects

In any language lesson and curriculum, we make a choice – consciously or subconsciously, willingly or unwillingly – about the form of the language we teach. By this I mean:

  • whether we teach (and assess) so-called “standard” vocabulary or whether we teach regionally/nationally distinct vocabulary – and if so, when and how
  • whether we reward only “correct” (i.e. according to prescriptive definitions) grammar, or encourage the use and learning of common grammatical usage (i.e. teach grammar as it is widely used, and view grammar as a descriptive phenomenon

The homogenising approach to teaching so-called “standard” version of the language is not uncontroversial.

Firstly, we are likely to be teaching the language of dominant groups within society, thus sustaining social and linguistic inequalities in our own teaching. We send a signal to our students that socially or geographically situated variations in vocabulary, pronunciation or grammar are of lesser value. This sends uncomfortable signals to our students about who language belongs to.

Secondly, we risk alienating our learners from broad swathes of native speakers of the language.  Our learners will be noted by native speakers for their association to culturally and socially dominant forms of the language – meaning that rather than build bridges with communities, we could potentially be accentuating existing divides.

Thirdly, a successful and fulfilled linguist will be one who understands, enjoys and can even harness the diversity within the language he/she/they are learning. It unlocks a whole new level of learning the language and about language.

I wanted to use, therefore, the brief reprieve from the tyranny of GCSE specifications to explore this with my Year 11 German class. Watch the video and/or read below.


Part 1: The original text


Source: https://www.duda.news/wissen/rotkaeppchen-kurz-und-knapp/

I chose this text because:

  • its content will be familiar to many learners
  • it contains absolutely tonnes of high frequency language appropriate for GCSE / year 11 learners
  • it is situated in the German-speaking imagination – and could be part of a wider unit of work on reading and writing fairytales in their German Märchen tradition

Es war einmal ein süßes Mädchen, das mit seiner Mutter auf dem Dorf lebte. Seine Großmutter schenkte ihm ein rotes Käppchen, das ihm so gut stand, dass es nichts anderes mehr tragen wollte. So nannte jeder das Mädchen „Rotkäppchen“… click to see full text

Continue reading “Deutscher Sprachatlas: discovering linguistic diversity in the classroom”

Oxford German Olympiad: teaching resources

Here are some resources to help any German teachers out there who are keen to encourage their students to participate in the Oxford German Olympiad (deadline 24 April 2020, sadly).

It can easily be done as a unit of work on Beethoven.  It’s aimed at a higher-ability year 11 group but can easily be adapted.

It’s a bit rushed – I’ve cobbled it together this morning because of the deadline approaching – but hopefully it will give you some ideas.

Here’s the powerpoint:  Ox German Olympiad Beethoven resources _final – Copy

And here are images of the resources – click on the thumbnails to see them.


Routledge Intensive Dutch course – a great textbook, what can we learn from it?

coverMy lockdown project for yesterday was to pick up a new language. As a Germanist, Dutch was an easy option and an itch that I had always wanted to scratch. I treated myself to the Routledge Intensive Course in Dutch.

The book is designed for undergraduate and adult learners – so this means it would not work as a textbook resource in most or many secondary classrooms. Unlike UG or adult learning settings, not all of our students are there through choice, and many of our students will have limited literacy. Although, that is why teach languages after all…

Nevertheless, it’s a great textbook for the following reasons. I’ve given examples for each – and a little explanation.  All language teachers can use this to reflect on the resources that they typically use in the classroom.

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1. It’s full of culture

Using this book, I’m not just learning Dutch, I’m learning all about Holland and Belgium. Culture doesn’t only mean high art and obtuse literature: it means studying what people are like, how they interact and talk, in what ways their life is different from mine. It means engaging with and enjoying our mutual otherness and commonality. It brings language-learning to life and helps me establish a positive (imagined) relationship with Dutch-speaking communities. Some examples:

a) Vocab which transport me to a Dutch-speaking kitchen. Not a generic pizza or burger in sight:

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b) Cultural information integrated into the topic being taught – it’s absolutely OK to use English/L1 sometimes. It pays dividends if it helps you increase extrinsic motivation. And cultural learning is learning in the language classroom.

c) Evidences how language and cultural identity are closely linked. How we speak reflects who we are. This could be done socio-linguistically at all levels.  When we are doing listening tasks, we don’t just have to listen for comprehension, we can listen analytically: who is the speaker? How do we know?  Rhythm, pace, intonation, accent, word choice, structures, forms of address, etc.

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2. I’m learning real, idiomatic Dutch

Everybody rightly points out that high frequency words should have priority on vocab lists and in exams. Fine. But what people then curiously do is eliminate some of the very highest frequency words – because they’re actually the hardest.  Germanists will know what I mean – doch and noch are virtually never taught at school, yet they’re super handy, very common and add crucial meaning to utterances and scripts.

This textbook teaches those small words right from the word go, and does it really well.  It reassures the learner that s/he isn’t learning ‘pretend Dutch’ – but the real thing. And it demystifies those idiomatic flourishes which puzzle British language-learners, even at an advanced level. Have a look at these examples – and note how they also include listening.


3. Pronunciation and intonation.

What I also really like about this book is that it actively enocurages the repeition and performance of printed dialogues by students – giving the learner the chance to focus solely on pronunciation and intonation.  This is a point often missed in discussions about cognitive overload. As linguists, we need to remember that intonation and pronunciation require full concentration, especially in the early stages.  Indeed, we despite the advances in teaching pronunciation via phonics, we tend to neglect intonation entirely.

Virtually every recorded dialogue in the book is accompanied by something like this as a first exercise. This is so easily integrated into secondary teaching – and platforms such as flipgrid, Padlet and OneNote allow us to set them as homework tasks, too.

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4. A varied, mixed and lively approach to grammar

Dutch is a Germanic language, so there’s plenty of issues like word order and strong/weak verbs to deal with. Then there are the usual suspects like conjugation  and adjective endings, although the latter are quite simple in Dutch.

Linguists will argue till their teeth bleed about whether grammar should be taught a) at all or b) implicitly or explicitly.  Then there’s the current fashion to teach lexico-grammar, which is essentially a lot of implicit examples in short phrases with structured exercises for practice.

The truth is – as I think we all know – that there is no silver bullet. Teachers on the front line will also know that students grow quickly weary of doing the same approach again and again ad nauseam. This book has great variety and I’ve included examples of teach

a) Grammar introduced implicitly for the learner to notice and merely understand its meaning (i.e. we don’t realise we’re being taught the grammar, yet we start to absorb it). This example is with the present perfect tense.

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b) Grammar modeled for implicit learning, such as these examples where the learner is invited to notice and deduce the rule…

…or these examples where the learner is guided through a series of scaffolded tasks to deduce and reproduce.

3. Explicit explanations of grammar for reference and clarity

4. Well scaffolded exercises for practice – note the variety of vocab, not limited to one topic or lexical field. This helps retrieval later on.

5. Rich, ambitious vocabulary

Often language textbooks assume that more expressive or interesting words are more difficult to remember. This plainly isn’t true – and sometimes we can be far more expressive and creative with our TL if we use more precise vocabulary, and cognates can often help us here (in European languages, at least). In less similar languages, too, we might as well learn good vocab, as it is no harder than boring vocab.  This textbook encourages a good range of rich vocab right from the start.

This also means a variety of sentence constructions: it is crucial for students to see and learn to cope with this variety in reading if they are ever to be able to make sense of recorded clips in a listening text.

Additionally, it means using all parts of speech when acquiring topic vocab: describing people is not just about adjectives, it makes use of verbs, nouns and adverbs too, as the following example shows:

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Even the simplest of exercises early on feature a full range of words, from simple and common to abstract and less common. It gives a sense of colour and liveliness to the language being learned.

6. More than just comprehension and production

Particularly at Key Stage 3 and GCSE, tasks are extremely narrowly conceived. We read/hear texts only for comprehension, and we write/speak only to answer a given question – all too often an exam-style question with an banal fictional response whose content is of no consequence.

What this book does nicely is encourage the learner to engage critically with texts written in the TL. It asks the learner not just to understand what is being said, but…

  • how it is being said/written
  • why it is being said/written in that way
  • what features or words give the text a particular effect

This makes the learner feel a whole lot more intellectually engaged – and the learner can appreciate language production as a creative activity in and of itself. It reinforces cross-curricular references to English language, and will enable students to engage a broader variety of skills in the MFL classroom.

For example…

  1. The book asks students to note, engage with and use different registers of Dutch, right from the word go

2. It asks students to study, notice and use different tones, using specific vocab and intonation

3. It asks students to analyse texts linguistically and develops use of grammar and vocab in so doing

4. It does also ask students to understand the content of a text – but often the final question will elicit a more analytical response. This is great differentiation.


For me, this book sets a good standard for the materials we use in MFL classrooms, virtual or real. Materials should:

  1. Be totally reflective of culture and identity
  2. Explain, demystify and encourage use of idiom, especially the small and highly common words that affect meaning
  3. Develop intonation as much as pronunciation
  4. Tackle grammar and syntax in a variety of ways
  5. Be rich and ambtious in their vocab – so that the words we’re teaching are words worth learning
  6. Go beyond comprehension and encourage learning about language




  1. The exam should be fairer
    • more manageable, defined content
    • less focused on middle-class topics
    • accessible questions, in English if needed
    • abolish the tiers of entry
    • comparable with other EBacc subjects
    • reduce the exam burden on pupils
  2. The course should be better
    • get rid of the outdated topics
    • promote linguistic understanding, not rote-learning
    • recognise the broader purpose of language learning
    • properly reflect the cultures of the language being studied


  1. Write to your MP
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For the purposes of analysis, only responses from practising teachers in England were used.

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Verbatim comments: current GCSE

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Verbatim comments: what the next GCSE should be

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