Learning vocab and grammar may, at times, seem like an arduous task for a young language learner. Certainly when I was young (quite a while ago now!), we were presented with a list of 50 expressions to learn most weeks and I stared at them on the school bus on the morning of the test. Certainly not a great long-term memory solution; in fact, the vocabulary had mostly disappeared from my head by the time I got the school bus home!
So, how do we encourage our young learners to learn independently? Luckily, there are many online tools available to help and some of them I have explored here. I have trialled all these free tools myself and have seen a difference in motivation with my pupils. It’s worth a go at home!
Apps have made a huge difference to language learning – Quizlet, Quizizz, Memrise and Duolingo are all readily available and each offer the learner a slightly different experience, so there are plenty to choose from. As your child may enjoy being on their phone or device anyway, this is a good way of getting them to learn vocabulary and it does not seem as repetitive and boring as the ‘staring at the page’ approach!
I’ll admit it. I’m slightly obsessed with Quizlet. When preparing lessons, I often get carried away with someone else’s Quizlet and see if I can beat the top score. The advantage with this App is that, once your child has set up an account, they can input their own vocabulary and expressions and use the flashcards to learn these independently. There are various games where they have to match, recognise or spell the word or phrase and accuracy increases their score. I would recommend searching for the name of the textbook that your child is using and they might well find the exact set of vocabulary they are looking for, or it may just need tweaking.
Quizizz is not dissimilar and has quizzes on lots of topics, including topic vocabulary and specific grammar points. I like Quizizz as the graphics are colourful and if you do well, you get extra points for your ‘Streak’. Your child can work at their own pace and it is possible to input their own vocabulary to form their own quiz though, as above, it is very likely that someone has already done the work for them! It is possible to turn off the memes (they are there for encouragement) if this does not appeal to your child.
Memrise is great for learning single words and phrases. It is a language course for all ages and it introduces two vocabulary items at a time on an on-screen flashcard. Your child is then put through their paces with a variety of games so that they can measure their progress. There are videos of native speakers, which is a real bonus for hearing the pronunciation, but your child will not have control of the vocabulary that they learn. However, with topics such as ‘ordering food’ and ‘the most 500 common words’, there will inevitably be some overlap with the learning plan for the year.
After a long weekend in Rome, I am currently learning Italian on Duolingo. This course is designed for beginners, or those in their first year of learning. The little green owl, Duo, keeps learners on their toes and reminds them that they have not been on the App that day. I must admit I don’t find this particularly endearing but, as I have only signed up for the minimum time per day, it is easy to catch up and you can turn off the notifications. The benefit is that it works out the answers that your child gets wrong and tests them again, so that they gain in confidence. As with Memrise, there is no control over the vocabulary content and grammar is not explicitly taught, but the basics reflect the curriculum taught in Years 7 and 8. The levels are short and I know many pupils who have engaged with other languages, so the owl must be doing something right!
Padlet is an online noticeboard that teachers can use to allow students to collaborate with other students, but it can work very well individually too. It comes with different wallpapers for your child to attach their ideas.
For example, if they were working on the present tense, they could post pictures of the present tense verb tables and then attach useful videos, documents or links to useful websites and they are all saved as a handy revision tool. For topic vocabulary, it would be easy to find pictures of the relevant word in the language and label them, or write sentences that can be recapped alter in the year, or expanded on.
However, it really comes into its own when researching for the independent research project at A level, as they can organise each section and pin relevant links to books, Twitter posts, newspaper articles and much more. I would recommend the ‘totally private’ setting unless school or home monitors the collaboration.
The Internet is a most helpful tool for your child to be engaging independently in their language learning. However, no matter how good it is, independent learning is not necessarily all about Apps and websites. There are many other tools out there that work and it’s more about using the resources that your child finds useful.
In the next blog, I will look at other ways of fostering independent language learning without the Apps and websites. Until then, I will be trying to perfect my Italian, so, ‘A presto!’
Lynnette Ketchell has worked as a languages teacher for over 25 years and tutors German and French for The Language Locker www.thelanguagelocker.co.uk