Language learning in schools has hit an all-time low, with a decrease of 30-50% in GCSE languages take-up in some parts of the UK since 2013. It was really quite depressing to read these stats from the BBC News analysis today.
Having mulled it over, however, I think it shows that the UK is ripe for a totally new and different approach to how we think about and teach languages. Take-up of GCSE languages is low, with French and German in a serious downward trend. There is a lot of focus in the Government's literature to entice students about how languages are good for careers and creating a skilled workforce, and there was another very motivational article on the BBC about how learning languages has changed people's lives (with four inspiring examples of careers based on having learned languages). But are employability skills really what motivates young people to learn a language?
It certainly wasn't what got my tongue wagging in French. It was wanting to talk to people I liked and...
Did you know you can download Babel Babies multilingual music, and find it on CD (with lyrics booklets) too?
How would you like to entertain your little ones by singing The Wheels on the Bus in German together? Or send your baby off to sleep with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in Spanish? You could impress your friends with a rendition of Incy Wincy Spider in Arabic too if you download the Babel Babies Sing Languages Together albums, available on all good digital music stores.
Since releasing our two albums of original multilingual music in 2013 and 2015, Babel Babies has introduced thousands of families to languages from around the world including French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Welsh and Arabic. It's a little language revolution waiting to happen on your school run, or in your kitchen as you cook the tea.
The idea is simple: we learn languages like we do music, through the rhythm and intonation. Before we pick up the individual words we develop an ear...
Do conversations with toddlers work? This is a headline we spotted today. We sometimes get asked why we bother talking to children under 2, because they can’t have a conversation (the implication being they can’t understand).
Well, they can understand! And talking to them, narrating the daily routines of dressing, putting the dishwasher on, or going out, is what helps children learn how words join together in sentences. It’s how they learn to speak for themselves. Songs and stories aside, talking to them as much as possible while you’re together is super important.
They don’t learn just single words: vocabulary by itself isn’t language. They learn how words connect, the grammar, intonation, word order...it’s all about having an actual conversation with your baby!
Going to eat a banana with your little one? Don’t just say “BANANA!” Say, “oh look at the yellow banana in the bowl...shall we eat it?” And even...
I'm always on the lookout for new ways of exploring languages with our children, and the new app Unuhi immediately caught my eye. We've been using it this half term to compare French/English and English/Italian texts and brush up our vocabulary together whilst on holiday, but it's also so much fun to change the two language combinations to languages we are less familiar with, for example to see Arabic, Japanese and Mandarin scripts. We are hooked, so I asked Unuhi founder, Mark Bassett, a few questions to get the full story.
Hi Mark, thanks for talking to us about your new bilingual books app, Unuhi. Please can you explain what the name Unuhi means?
Hi Cate, thank you for taking a look at our new app! Unuhi means 'to translate' in Hawaiian. It should be pronounced 'ooo-noo-hee'. I have heard quite a few amusing pronunciations though. Anyway, I thought it sounded fun and of course the name is relevant to what we are about.
Tell us a bit about what the app does and why you created it....
On the eve of the Babel Boy's birthday, Cate reflects on how being a part of the little language revolution (whether he wants to or not!) has shaped his outlook as he reaches his 8th year.
When he was born, I didn't know if I was going to speak English or French to my son. I was a French teacher, so it seemed daft not to impart some of my hard-earned linguistic skills to him as I knew that the earlier you started learning how to roll those Rs, the less embarrassment you would experience in bars trying to chat up the opposite sex when you are 20. But I didn't want to confuse him with two languages, and I was SO TIRED as a new mum, and the wavering meant that I mostly spoke English, with a smattering of French when I remembered to try it.
Fast forward to his 1st birthday, when Ruth and I had been planning Babel Babies for six months and finally launched it after I moved to Cheltenham from Glasgow that summer. From then on, the Babel Boy was exposed to all sorts of languages from...
So here's a thought: when has Britain ever been anything other than multilingual to the max? Our ancestors spoke Old Norse, and then Old German, and then French for six hundred years... and English has remnants of all of these languages and more in its current form.
And yet the media is full of how immigrants should speak only English to help them fit in. Next time you hear this, give them a quick history lesson: English already *is* multilingual.
Our eggs are Norwegian, our lights are German, our conversation is still at least 30% French (not to mention our wine!), our pyjamas are Persian, via Urdu, and our pizzas...well, can you guess how much of our nation's favourite food choices are Italian?! So when you are sitting eating pizza fiorentina with the lights down low, watching Danish thrillers on Netflix in your pyjamas, you're indebted to our incredible history and all of the languages and cultural practices that have travelled to our shores with centuries of trade and people and...
It seems appropriate to be writing a review of Nadine Kaadan's wonderful story Tomorrow on the eve of the release of the English translation.
Written and published in Arabic in 2012, this beautiful picture book tells a sad tale of how the lives of children in Syria changed once the war started to ravage their home towns. Yazan is no longer able to go outside and play with his friends, and he is fed up of being stuck in the house with his parents who have got the news on the television turned up too loud.
His mother, who once painted pictures with him, now just sits glued to the screen. So Yazan takes matters into his own hands: he goes outside. What could possibly go wrong?
I first encountered this story at our Singing for Syrians fundraising event in February 2017 and felt very strongly that it needed to be published in English. Nadine's illustrations are incredibly moving. Through her use of colour and shape she shows how oppressive daily life has become for families, whilst...
When we saw the Black & White Book Project on instagram was from Bristol, we just had to find out more about these locally-produced books for babies and their educational value from designer Ruth...
Ciao Ruth, we recently spotted you on Instagram and immediately loved the look of your black and white books. Before we grill you about the books, please could you tell us a little bit about you and your family?
We are the Bradford Family: myself, my husband Karl, and our 19-month-old little boy called Teddy. We moved to Bristol at the end of 2017 after living in Singapore for the past 6 years. Teddy was actually born out there but we decided we wanted to be closer to family and friends so he could get to know everyone as he grows up. It’s been a crazy 12 months of learning the parenting ropes, packing up our lives on the other side of the world, finding a new home and launching the business! We never seem to do things by halves that’s for sure!
What prompted you to...
We run Babel Babies baby, toddler and pre-school language sessions in five-week mini ‘terms’ for lots of reasons. When we first started out we used to change the songs every week. Imagine that! Now we repeat exactly the same songs for five weeks.
Experience tells us that five weeks is just the right amount of time for songs in foreign languages to filter into our long-term memory.
I think that the usual learning curve for a first-time Babel Babies goer is:
Week 1 – Whoa! I’ll never remember all those words!
Week 2 – Oh yes, I vaguely remember that from last week!
Week 3 – Ah ha, this is starting to make sense now!
Week 4 – Yay, I nearly got it right that time!
Week 5 – Woo hoo! I’m singing in eight languages!
Spaced repetition is a wonderful learning technique. We then take the songs you’ve just learned and put some of them in the next term as well, only changing three or four each term to ensure continuity and progression of...
Looking for some inspiration for primary-school-aged children to explore languages together?
If you’ve got a child at primary school or just about to start, and you want to find more resources to support their exploration of languages, you might like the BBC Primary languages site which has links to…
* the fab CBeebies programme The Lingo Show
* Snapdragon – games in Welsh
* loads of French games, audio and video.
* games and video for Mandarin
* and more of the same for Spanish!