Language Teaching & Learning

The Language Teaching & Learning section focuses on specific language learning and teaching matters to stimulate your thinking and encourage you to engage and find out more.  Many of these ideas are contributed through guest blogs or articles written by members of the language teaching community.

Contributions from ALL Members

The Special Interest Group for Decolonising Primary MFL now has its own web area here.

You can scroll down to 'Primary Decolonise SIG' for further information.

Thoughts on Progression

Thanks to Catherine Cantin for sharing her document.

Hackney Spanish First Language

The Hackney Spanish First Language Initiative Report is now online.


Research was carried out throughout 2020 as part of the AHRC-funded Language Acts and Worldmaking Project by researchers from Kings College London, The Open University and Westminster University.

It aimed to evaluate the impact of the Hackney project on:

  • pupils learning Spanish at primary level
  • the level of success of secondary teachers in building on prior learning
  • transition arrangements

and may be of interest to readers in other contexts.

Please click here for more details.

Why German in the Primary School?

Why German in the Primary School?

We had a trial Ofsted inspection last year, and languages was picked as a Deep Dive subject. When I was talking to my line manager beforehand, I told him that the first question would be ‘Why German?’ He was sceptical, but I was proved completely right!

I think children learn best from teachers who are passionate about their subject, and I love German – it is my second language and occupies a large part of my heart. I lived in Germany from the ages of 9 to13 and spent half my year abroad, as part of my BA in Modern Languages, in West Berlin. I have found the Germans to be friendly and welcoming and have a huge memory bank of cheesy German pop music and stodgy food!   I want them to learn the language of Goethe, Nena, Dschinghis Kahn and Ralf Zuckowski.  I want our children to have more choice than just two Romance languages that they seem to be offered now in so many secondary schools.

I have heard so many people say that they found German easier than French at school because they liked the clearer patterns and rules.  I want our dyslexic students to experience a language that is easier to read than English or French.  I want our children to experience a language that has words such as Quatsch, Schmetterling and Fernweh, and I want them learn the joys of compound nouns!!

But it is a constant battle…
Why have the big dictionary publishers not yet produced a bilingual dictionary aimed at primary school pupils in German, like the ones for French and Spanish?  Why do I spend a large amount of my time at every languages exhibition or show having the same conversations with suppliers about the shortage of resources for German?  Why do I know it will be much harder to sell the idea of a residential trip to Germany to my Headteacher, rather than one to France?
Why have the local Secondary schools dropped German in favour of French and Spanish, leaving me with no local German support network?

If it weren’t for the amazing support offered by the Goethe-Institut in London, and the other German nutters in the LiPS Facebook group, I would question my sanity. We know it will be worth it if future generations can finally move away from the horrible prejudices and stereotypes that we Germanists still meet on a regular basis in this country.

Finally, when I have lesson like the one with my year 6 classes this week, when they happily tried Lebkuchen, Brezeln, Paprika Chips and smoked cheese, and when some of them told me about a stall in the shopping centre selling German sausages that they had tried and liked, I KNOW I am slowly but surely making a difference. Which, of course, is what we are all in teaching for, in the end.

Marian Devons, Surrey, December 2019.

I teach German to all of KS2 in a 3-form entry primary school in West London as part of the PPA cover for the class teachers. I have a BA in German and Russian and a PGCE in primary teaching, as well as an MA in Children’s Literature. I was a primary school class teacher until 2014, when I moved into primary languages as a ‘specialism’, although I had been involved in language teaching in primary schools since 2004.

Celebrating multilingualism in an Oxford Primary School

The primary school where I teach German is an amazing place for a linguist to work. Pupils come to the school from all around the world bringing with them a wonderful range of languages. One morning I heard a conversation between three very young children who were happily telling each other how to say things in “their” language. The languages they were speaking were Hindi, Russian and Japanese. Later that same day I was teaching German to a class of ten year-olds. It was the birthday of one pupil so, as usual, we sang “Happy Birthday” in German, then French and Spanish. Several pupils were able to join in with those languages but when I invited another pupil to lead the song in his native language he was reluctant, saying that he couldn’t remember it. I was surprised at this because in previous years he had happily led the song. I wondered whether he had genuinely forgotten the words or was too embarrassed to sing in his mother tongue. In either case it struck me as a great pity that a child would not feel proud to be able to share the gift of language in the same way as he had when younger.

I had already decided to hold an International Evening in school and the incidents that day showed that celebrating linguistic diversity was important if children were to realise the value of their gifts. My intention was to invite children to perform in their native language or share a cultural aspect while parents would be invited to bring food to share. By happy coincidence the date selected was just a few days after the first ever Day of Multilingualism (27th March in 2019).

Planning the evening was difficult and time-consuming and there was no money available to me. Some approaches for help came to no fruition but I was fortunate to have a colleague who plans an annual Arts Open Evening and was able to draw on her planning documents as templates. Once information had gone out in the newsletter I spoke to children in my classes and invited them to prepare a performance or show an aspect of their native culture.

It was fantastic to see how many were keen to take part and the diversity of languages and performances they wanted to bring. Some children who were native English speakers were equally enthusiastic about performing in German and other languages they were learning. Perhaps the most visual display of linguistic diversity in our school came when I spoke to the whole school assembly one morning. I asked everyone in the hall to stand up, then to sit down if they only spoke one language. A few (mostly the adults) sat down. Then I asked them to sit down if they only spoke two, then three, then four languages. It was impressive to see how many children were still standing when I moved onto five and even six languages. Truly remarkable!

Once it was clear that there were plenty of children ready to perform at the evening I set about planning other activities for the evening. As we are currently introducing Mandarin into school I worked with the teacher to prepare a class group to perform a song, while the Mandarin club would perform a Kung-Fu style dance. My year 4 German classes were learning a sung version of Sleeping Beauty so I invited them to perform that as a class group. When the Mandarin coordinator offered to arrange a professional Lion Dance the Opening Ceremony plan was complete.

Our sports coordinator came on board with an offer to lead a game of Kabaddi, a lively game originating in India. The art coordinator was keen to help and we planned to facilitate preparation of a “welcome” board in many languages. Parents would supervise their children in writing the message in their home language on speech bubbles and the results would be made into a beautiful collage for display at the entrance to school. The Mandarin providers would also lead calligraphy workshops for parents and children to discover Chinese writing. I had a few other ideas such as language displays, quizzes, word searches, colouring activities and bilingual books to keep younger children busy along with a selection of freebies promoting languages. What I was unable to prepare for or predict was the number of visitors and helpers who would turn up on the night.

In the event the response from children was fantastic! The range of talents they showed was amazing: songs in Russian, Yoruba, Turkish and Greek; Irish and Aboriginal dances; and demonstrations of Chinese art, Spanish games and Hebrew language for schoolmates and adults. Many children came along to support their siblings and parents showed appreciation of all the performances. The PTA had organised a range of delicious food too.

The Opening Ceremony was impressive with the Lion Dance starting the event off in style. Following that was always going to be difficult but the children’s performances in Mandarin and German were still fantastic. Unfortunately, the number of children performing in German was low because the year group had also been performing their annual play that week, resulting in performance fatigue. Those who did come along sang beautifully, remembering all the tricky words and accompanying actions.

Other difficulties arose when teachers who had promised to help could not do so due to illness and other unforeseen events. This meant that all individual performances had to take place in one classroom, and this led to some congestion in the show timetable. In addition, the art coordinator was unwell and so could not produce the planned “welcome” board activity. Plan B was to provide some black sugar paper with pastel crayons and simply invite parents and children to write a message. The results were actually rather lovely and again displayed a fabulous range of languages. I’m sure the original idea will be done some time soon and will be proudly on display.

The evening was a lively 90 minutes long and was attended by well over 100 people. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive both from parents and children. Highlights from their perspective was the range of languages represented and celebrated.

Suggestions for “next time” included more performances by children, a quiz and simply … more of the same. For me the highlight was the “buzz” of the evening- seeing and hearing so many children and parents having fun sharing their languages. PTA were very pleased to have raised over £400 from food sales that they were able to donate to the Mozambique Disaster Fund. I learnt a lot about planning an event with a budget of £ zero (!) and am already thinking about how I might organise a similar activity for the younger children in school. Top of my list will be getting more helpers on board … though I haven’t yet worked out how to prevent them from falling ill on the Big Day.


Ann Poole
MFL coordinator SS Philip and James’ primary school, Oxford
ALL Bicester Primary Hub

My Best 10 Phonics

Sue Cave

Sue Cave is an independent primary languages consultant for Cave Languages. She has taught French in the primary, secondary and adult education sectors as well as TESOL. She is the co-author of ‘Physical French Phonics’ published by Brilliant Publications.

My best 10 ideas for getting started with teaching phonics:

1. Pause and say

This is an activity to help your pupils internalise new sounds. Say a sequence of 3 sounds and tell the class then they can’t repeat these sounds until you give them a sign to do so. Hopefully, in the pause, they are repeating the sounds silently in their head to help them remember. Challenge them by lengthening the time before they must repeat. This can then be practised in pairs.

2. Charades

Perform the allocated actions for the phonemes in a word in the order in which they appear (missing out any that sound the same in English as the language being learnt). The pupils try to be first to guess the word. This is another good activity to help with the internalisation of sounds.

3. Listen for the sound

When using a song, story, poem or rhyme in the classroom, ask your pupils to listen out for a particular sound or sounds within it and perform the agreed action each time it is heard. This can be lots of fun.

4. Fire and Hire

Once your pupils are familiar with the letter strings for a group of sounds, create flashcards for the letters. Distribute them to pupils who should stand at the front of the class with the letters on the card facing outwards. Then randomly call out a sound and if a pupil holds a card with the corresponding letter(s) they should raise it in the air immediately. Anyone failing to raise the card on hearing the sound or raises the incorrect card is ‘fired’ and another pupil is ‘hired’. The aim is not to be fired for the duration of the game. A set of small versions of these flashcards can be made for groups of pupils so that they can compete to ‘splat’ the correct card first on hearing a sound.

5. Listen and show

Try to give a phonic focus to most teaching and learning activities. For example, when practising recognition of new vocabulary, say a sound (with an accompanying action, if the support is needed) found within one or more of the words and the pupils must try to be the first to show an image card for that item of vocabulary which has the sound within it.

6. Trapdoor

Display some letter strings on the board. Divide the class into two groups. Whilst group 1 has their eyes closed, one pupil from group 2 indicates a chosen letter string. The pupils in group 1 open their eyes and take it in turns to select and name the sound of a letter string. For every sound which is not the one chosen by group 2 they win a point. Once the chosen sound is selected, that group’s turn is over and ‘they fall through the trapdoor’. The points are totalled at the end of a determined number of turns and the group with the most points is the winner. Depending on the confidence of the learners, mispronunciation of a sound can also be penalized by ‘falling through the trapdoor’.

7. Phonic hangman

If playing this traditional game to practise and recall the spelling of words, try using a short line for a single letter sound and a long line for a sound of two or more letters. If playing in French, use a dotted line to indicate a silent letter.

8. Phonic bingo

Bingo continues to have an appeal to learners of any age. Ask your pupils to select and note down several letter strings, from a list, for the sounds with which they are familiar. When they have heard all the sounds for their selection called out by you, it is time to say Bingo!

9. Phonic Happy Families

Create sets of small cards on which are the letter strings for each phoneme of a word e.g. r – ou – ge. The cards are dealt so each person has the same, or roughly the same, number of cards. The aim of the game is to create a word by acquiring all the phonemes needed. Each player takes it in turns to ask an individual if they have a particular grapheme by asking for it by its sound. If a person has a grapheme which corresponds to the sound, it is handed over, if not, their turn is over. This continues until all the words have been reassembled and the player with the largest number of completed words is the winner.

10. Find your group

If I have taken time to create a resource, I always try to reuse it for a different activity to maximise its use. So, with the same set of cards as described in activity 9, distribute one to each pupil. The pupils move around the room and ask whoever they meet which sound they have on their card. If the sounds on both their cards can be put together to form part, or even all, of one of the items of vocabulary, they join forces. Then, if necessary, move together to find other pupils with the correct sounds to complete their word. As different letter strings can make the same sound, they will need to check which grapheme is on each other’s card.


  • Sounds can be ephemeral and difficult to keep in the long-term memory. So, try allocating an action and an image for each sound. This makes it easier to recall and recognize. Ask your pupils to say what the sound makes them think of and by consensus agree on an action.
  • Don’t forget to explain the physical process and position of the mouth when making a sound.
  • Select vocabulary for a scheme of work so that in the first year all the key sounds are systematically encountered and in subsequent years choose vocabulary to introduce alternative letter strings for the sounds.
  • Present and practise the letter strings for each new sound. Then, rather than you provide the written form of a new word, allow your pupils first to predict the spelling.
  • As your pupils become familiar with the sound and letter correspondences, give them plenty of opportunity to pronounce words without your support. This will give them confidence in the future to pronounce unfamiliar words with a high degree of accuracy.
  • For French, introduce the concept of silent letters and liaison early on to prepare them for the possible sound changes of words in sentences.
Drama in a Primary Languages setting

In 2016, I took part in the Pilot project for the Multilingual Performance Project (MPP) ; following a workshop for teachers focusing on drama games I tried the ideas with my primary school classes and ran an after-school drama/MFL club. Children responded well to the approach and I enjoyed using the activities to improve my teaching. In March 2018, I attended the MPP launch led by Daniel Tyler McTighe (the director of the project) at the Birmingham Rep and took away more ideas and the confidence to try them out.‎

When an opportunity arose in school to produce a play to be shown to parents at The North Wall theatre towards the end of May I foolishly said that I might like to do something I … so now had to come up with a plan! Here’s how we went from idea to production …

Remembering Daniel’s offer of assistance I emailed him for advice. Basically I had no idea where to start! I had previously led only a handful of performances in assemblies and wondered whether to adapt one of those into a longer piece.

After discussing performing rights with Daniel, I came to the conclusion that an ‘off the peg’ play would be easiest to work with. A quick search led me to one with songs and a little use of several languages included. It was called “The Great Globetrotting Game” (Easy Peasy Plays) and with its message about global unity it seemed to fit my needs perfectly. I also had support from a colleague who agreed to work with me and who had some experience of producing plays at university. Both of us were relative novices but keen to give it a go.

So, by the end of March, I had found a play and a co-producer, but had no idea of who would be our performers as yet! In fact, this would not be decided until late April once children signed up for the different activities on offer. No chance of auditions or rehearsals for some time yet.

‎In April, we set a date for Daniel to visit us during rehearsals. He advised me on many aspects of production that I hadn’t even considered, including more games, stage geography and how to run sessions. Daniel offered to liaise with the theatre to design our stage projections on something called QLab and to help us with costumes from The REP a,nd from his own store. Needless to say I now felt much more confident that I might actually produce something worth watching!

Children who had signed up for the play were given a script and auditions took place. Most of the roles were easy to allocate – children just seemed to fit the characters in the play. We arranged for song rehearsals to take place during one lunchtime per week – not ideal but the songs were catchy and available on the website in karaoke form.

In mid-May, Daniel paid another visit to school with a suitcase full of super costumes and props, a Powerpoint showing the background projections he had prepared, and more top tips.

Soon afterwards, rehearsals could finally begin! We had our group of performers who had (mostly) learnt their lines as requested and could sing along to the songs. We followed advice from Daniel on how to energise or calm things down with games and activities. Unfortunately, we soon realised what a lot of work still needed to be done and how quickly time goes when you’re having fun …

Rehearsals went pretty well – children enjoyed all the games alongside practising their parts and we discovered hidden talents amongst our group. We were able to make use of the linguistic talents of our pupils and learning a few phrases in Japanese, French and Spanish was not a problem for them. Having a pupil who knew how to perform the Sand Dance (a graceful one, not the comedy version) was really special!  At the same time panic started to set in when we realised how many props and costumes we still needed to make: Japanese cherry blossom, Egyptian robes and collars, yeti outfits to name but a few.

On the day before the performance, Daniel arrived to watch rehearsals. He was very impressed with what he saw but gave children advice on making everything bigger for a theatre audience. He taught the children a “theatre bow” to take applause from the audience. Children were able to ask Daniel for advice on voice projection and calming their nerves – useful for us teachers too!

The Big Day finally arrived. Not everything was finished and perfect but we all felt excited. We had a final full dress rehearsal with projections and lighting, and we played a few games and activities to calm the nerves just before the afternoon audience arrived …

The afternoon performance went almost to plan (one song went a bit awry and children rushed their lines a little) but the audience were very kind and applauded them heartily as they took their bows.

The evening performance was as good as we could have wished – nerves had gone and the children remembered advice from Daniel about using their bodies as well as their voices. It was super for them to hear the audience laugh, clap and sing along at the appropriate times. As children were reunited with their parents it was clear from their comments that they were very impressed by the performance. Colleagues who had attended the show were equally enthusiastic – some had tears in their eyes during one particular solo song and the finale about saying “Hello” around the world.

The post-show reunion with the cast was delayed because of half-term holidays but eventually we were able to award certificates and get some feedback from the children. Their comments were overwhelmingly positive:

“I loved it all … thank you for boosting my confidence because I was very scared.”

“I really liked the atmosphere.” 

 “I learnt … that you have to really live the character to be convincing.”

“The warm-up games were fun … everything was fun!”

“I enjoyed going behind the scenes at the North Wall and Dr Dan visiting us.”

“I really liked that we got loads of help.”


All of the comments were feelings shared by my co-producer and me with perhaps the most accurate being “It was sooo fun!” “I learnt that it’s good to do what you are not good at.” “It was an amazing experience for all of us!”

Thank you very much Daniel and the MPP Project!

Ann Poole is a Primary languages teacher in Oxfordshire.


More on MPP here.

Chinese New Year at St Margaret's

Our junior pupils were amazed by the wonderful opening show of authentic Chinese magic, a circus performance and a ribbon dance. Many pupils volunteered to take part in the performance, making the cultural experience very interactive.

Please click here for more information.

My experience of a Deep Dive in Primary

We are grateful to Marie Allan of Portsmouth Primary Hub, who shares her experience of an inspection in this article.

My experience of an MFL Deep Dive in Primary.


At Language World 2021 Helen Stokes talked about using storybooks in Primary language lessons and delegates asked her for a list of recommendations.

Here is the list from Helen along with other references from Primary teachers.

In 2022 Sarah Timlin informs us that...
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Book Club recommends story books for each SDG. Please click here for more information.

Moreover, it recommends suitable story books in all six official UN languages - English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.

Guest Blogs

My experience of a Deep Dive in Primary

We are grateful to Marie Allan of Portsmouth Primary Hub, who shares her experience of an inspection in this article.

My experience of an MFL Deep Dive in Primary.

OfSTED blog May 2021

A new blog from OfSTED : Languages in outstanding Primary schools.

More support for Primary Languages

Languages Today Primary Blogs


Primary language teacher and consultant Clare Seccombe writes the Primary Blog in the Languages Today magazine which is a member benefit of ALL.  Explore some of Clare's blogs (updated in 2020) in her book in the Shop.

The Progression in Primary Languages Research Project

Please click here to find out more...

The Progression in Primary Languages project, led by Dr Rowena Kasprowicz (University of Reading), is a longitudinal research study exploring language learning in primary school. The aim of the study is to build a detailed picture of language learning throughout Key Stage 2 and explore the individual, instructional and contextual factors that influence language learning in primary school classrooms in England.

Working in collaboration with Dr Rachel Hawkes, the project team are supported by project partners including the Association for Language Learning, the National Centre for Excellence in Languages Pedagogy, and the Research in Primary Languages network.

The project is funded through a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship.


Longitudinal study of progression

Despite the clear intention within the National Curriculum for Foreign Languages, that children “should make substantial progress in one language” (DfE, 2013), there is a lack of clarity and only limited guidance available for schools regarding core content and learning outcomes for primary languages. Consequently, there is uncertainty regarding what “substantial progress” looks like in the primary languages classroom, leading to considerable variation in provision across different schools and languages, which has a knock-on effect as children transition from primary to secondary school.

Through a 4-year longitudinal study, the Progression in Primary Languages project will examine young learners’ language development in French, German and Spanish over four years of learning at primary school in England. Beginning in January 2023, pupils from our partner schools (whose language provision is ‘optimal but realistic’ for this context, i.e. offering 45-60 minutes of teaching per week following a defined scheme of work) will complete a set of language activities twice per year, which will measure the development of their language knowledge, including understanding and use of phonics, vocabulary and grammar, as well as listening, reading, writing and speaking skills in the target language.

The data generated through the longitudinal study will help to identify realistic learning outcomes and benchmarks for primary languages, following on from key recommendations in the Research in Primary Language network’s 2019 White Paper.

Partner Schools for German

We are still recruiting Partner Schools for the German strand of the project and are keen to hear both from schools who already have German teaching in place and those who would be keen to introduce German using the teaching resources created through the project. Please get in touch if you would like to find out more: [email protected]


KS2 German SoW and Resources

As part of the project, the team are working with Dr Rachel Hawkes on the creation of a fully resourced scheme of work for KS2 German. All resources are free to use, editable and include embedded audio to support delivery. The first set of resources for Year 3/4 Autumn term are already available via the project website with Year 5/6 Autumn resources being added over the next few weeks, and Spring and Summer terms to follow. The resources can be accessed here: KS2 German Scheme of Work and Resources

We would love to hear from you if you and your school are interested in using the new resources, please feel free to get in touch: [email protected]


The Wider Context: Perceptions of Primary Languages

We are also keen to better understand the wider context of primary languages teaching in England. To that end, the project team have launched a survey to explore the views and perceptions of primary school teachers, teacher educators, and teacher trainees with regards to the Key Stage 2 Languages Programme of Study, approaches to assessment of primary languages and beliefs about language teaching at this level.

If you are a primary school teacher, teacher educator or trainee in England, we would love to hear from you! Thank you to everyone who has responded so far.

Teacher survey link

Teacher educator survey link

Trainee survey link


For further information about the project and access to the resources, please visit the project website.

To get in touch with the project team, please contact us on: [email protected]

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