The Linguist

The Linguist 58-1 Feb-Mar2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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20 The Linguist Vol/58 No/1 2019 FEATURES Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the study set out to address the challenges that confront pupils when they start studying MFL at secondary school, and to find ways of boosting confidence by building on their literacy skills. The researchers hoped to generate practical recommendations for teachers by comparing the efficacy of different approaches to teaching reading. Testing three approaches Teachers participating in the study were asked to spend 20-30 minutes a week using one of three approaches: 'phonics', 'strategies' and 'texts'. Around 900 students aged 11-12, in 36 schools across England, participated over a 16-week period. Pupils in the phonics group were taught using explicit phonics instruction. This involved teaching children to read by looking at the relationships between the written symbols of the language and the spoken sounds they represent. Students were encouraged to 'sound out' written words in order to pronounce them accurately, and then to apply this knowledge by reading texts aloud. Explicit phonics instruction is recommended by the recent 'Teaching Schools Council Review of Modern Languages', which states: "Pupils who are not systematically taught the phoneme-grapheme correspondences of their new language very often read and speak using the English system they already know, leading to multiple errors in communication and understanding." 3 Pupils in the strategies group were taught eight strategies to help them comprehend written texts more effectively – for example, how to deduce the meaning of an unfamiliar word based on its context in a written passage, and checking that their initial interpretation of the text made sense. The texts group had lessons based on texts only; they received no explicit teaching on either phonics or strategies. This enabled researchers to determine whether any benefits of explicit instruction were due to that instruction itself, or if the same outcomes could be achieved simply by giving students practice in reading more challenging texts. Each of the groups worked on eight texts which were specially created for the project. They were intended to be both challenging and engaging, pitched at a level above that often covered in classroom textbooks but still accessible to beginner learners. The materials aimed to engage students' interest and focused on topics related to francophone culture, such as famous French footballers, singers, tourist sites and the Twin Towers "Explicit phonics instruction… may be necessary for many MFL students to learn to decode in French" What is the best method for teaching reading in a foreign language? Amanda Barton looks to new research for the answer R eading is one of the four main language skills in the secondary-school curriculum in England, and is weighted equally alongside speaking, listening and writing in the new GCSE examination. There are numerous well-known benefits of teaching reading, including consolidating literacy in the student's first language; creating opportunities for independent learning outside the classroom; aiding vocabulary growth; and giving students access to the target-language culture, not just through books, but also via websites, blogs and other electronic media. Nevertheless, reading has been described as the neglected skill in the classroom, with teachers often seeing it as the easiest of the skills and therefore undeserving of equal time. 1 Recent research investigating different approaches to the teaching of reading has generated some surprising findings. 2 The 'Unlocking Reading' project was launched against a background of poor attainment, low levels of motivation and a declining uptake of modern foreign languages (MFL) in recent years. Dr Robert Woore, lead author of the study and Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics at Oxford University's Department of Education, argues: "There is an urgent need for researchers and teachers to develop effective approaches to promote and sustain students' progress and motivation. Previous research has found that while pupils' confidence and motivation are high when they start secondary school, there is a dip in Year 8, as pupils perceive that they are making little progress." Reading matters

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