1. Focus on everyday language

For people who learn language in a formal classroom, the phrases people use every day to interact with one another are often the last things that they learn.

There are ways to help your pupils to gain proficiency in phrases and sentences that they can use when they meet proficient speakers of the additional language. Each set of phrases or sentences should:

  • be short and easy to learn;
  • say something that the pupils need and want to say;
  • be usable with a lot of people;
  • allow the pupils to start a conversation and build a relationship;
  • allow the pupils to learn more about the language from the person they are talking to;
  • not provoke long responses from the other person.

Case Study 1: Learning isiZulu through relationships

Liz Botha in East London, South Africa, was learning isiZulu as an additional language through a local language project called TALK. The motto of the TALK project was, ‘Learn a little, and use it a LOT!’

She started by learning how to greet in isiZulu, and to tell people that she was learning isiZulu. She also learned to ask them to speak to her in isiZulu and help her with her language learning.

She looked for people to whom she could speak isiZulu, and found that there were a number of isiZulu-speaking hawkers selling fruit and vegetables in the streets near her home. She practised her sentences with them, and started to get to know them. She had a friend who taught her new phrases, and she found out, from her, how to ask for the price of something, and buy it. These were the sentences she used the next time she saw her hawker friends.

As time went by, she learned to tell them about herself and her family. Later, she told them short stories about what had happened to her the day before, or at the weekend. One of the hawkers, named Jabu, became a very special friend of hers, and taught her many new words and sentences. He eventually became involved in helping other people to learn isiZulu within the TALK project.

Activity 1: Building language learning relationships

Ask your pupils where they hear the additional language spoken. Who do they know who speaks it well? Who could they speak to in the additional language? Consider individuals outside and inside school, and also people that you could invite to your classroom. Consider a partnership with another school nearby, if it could promote interaction in the additional language.

Now that your pupils know who they want to speak to, work out what they would like to say to them.

Systematically, as a long-term project, help them to learn vocabulary. Concentrate on clear sounds and pronunciation. Let them practise in pairs.

Ideas for basic things to learn include:

  • greetings and leave-taking;
  • giving and asking names, and personal/family information;
  • explaining that they are learners of the language and want help with learning more;
  • buying things;
  • talking about the weather;
  • saying what happened yesterday;
  • apologising, requesting, complimenting, etc.

Encourage them to practise with the people they decided on (above).

Spend some time each week asking about their progress.

What successes and difficulties have they had?

What new language have they learned?

What else have they learned?

Section 5: Supporting additional language learning

2. Writing letters