This page will gather together personal stories from Language teachers - and learners, and others - to cheer up and bring inspiration to teachers young and older.
All of us have a story to tell about how a language has had a positive impact on our lives :
- a visit we have made
- a person we have met
- a book we have read
- a life event
- an anecdote
- a response from a student
- the impact of a teacher
These stories are powerful in motivating others to think about learning. or teaching, or using their language(s), as well as building bridges between like-minded people.
A collection of stories called How Languages changed my life is available from Express Yourself North-East Festival of Languages on this link.
ALL invites you to contribute your story - in less than a page of text - for sharing on this page. Please send it to [email protected] with the title 'My story'.
Anna Lise's story
Anna Lise Gordon recalls a seminal incident on the Tube involving a rather dishevelled old lady...
Please click here for the full story.
Sam's story 1
Sam Losh tells the story of how her Italian Nan came to Liverpool, click here to view
Sam's story 2
I learnt a lot about pride and heritage in those few days, my sense of identity very much defined and set: I belonged to a city with a proud character, big heart - and distinct accent. click here to view
Read about Lisa's teacher 'an enigmatic and formidable Colombian who inspired and fascinated me' changed her language life, in this story.
Malak Moussa (now a Law student at SOAS, University of London) attended the Peace School and writes about how language learning opened her mind to wider issues here.
Darnelle Constant-Shepherd is a member of ALL Council.
Please click here to read Darnelle's full story.
Dev Atara is learning Spanish in the Sixth Form.
Please click here to read Dev's full story.
Eva's & Martha's Story
Eva Lamb is Chair of ALL Yorkshire.
When my daughter was born I was keen that she should learn to speak German so that she could communicate with our Austrian family, none of whom are proficient in English. All went well until she went to school and became aware that speaking German made her different. She would get embarrassed and did not want me to speak German in front of her friends.
The big turn-around came when we went on holiday to Tunisia. We were in a holiday complex where most of the holiday makers were either British or German, and Martha soon became the most popular child in the complex, as she was the only one that could translate between the two groups.
We have never looked back. She agreed to attend the German Supplementary School where I was teaching at the time and passed her German GCSE in Year 9. She is in her thirties now and very grateful that I did not give up on insisting she speaks German at home.
Please click here to read Maksi's full story.
Tahreem now works for Qatar Foundation International and attended Language Word in 2022.
Please click here to read Thareem's full story.
Sylvia Brown is an office manager in the North-West of England , and her story is full of languages.
Please click here to read Sylvia's full story.
Kate teaches Primary Languages and supports other teachers in the Primary Languages Network. She acknowledges in her story the power of colouring!
Please click here for Kate's full story.
Languages today Extra: What a language did for me
Here we include more stories which we hope will inspire language learners – with thanks to all the contributors. They raise issues that include
- The importance of international experiences for young learners
- The positive impact of exchange and the year abroad
- The notion that attitudes to language learning develop over time
- How passions can be combined
A student's story 1 : Dev Atara (16)
Here Dev, from Guildford, talks about his love for Spanish and the importance of language in his family life:
A student's story 2 : Wilf (17) Part 1
Year 12 Student Wilfred Lamont wrote a version of his first heart-warming article below for his School magazine. His teacher was thrilled with it, and shared it through ALL Channels.
We have since asked Wilfred to supplement his writing and the second article is a result of that.
Deutschland Online Erleben – Bericht
My experience with the virtual summer course with the Pädagogischer Austauschdienst and UK-German Connection
Dear Frau Lamb,
In July I took part in the Deutschland Online Erleben course that you helped me apply for at Easter. I would like to tell you that I really enjoyed it and I think I got a lot out of it in terms of my ability in German and to thank you very much for telling me about the opportunity.
I worked in a group of ten other 16 and 17 year-olds from Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Switzerland and the UK, working from 9am to 1:15pm (UK time). The course was structured as a virtual tour of Germany, so each day focused on one or two German cities. After the teacher had introduced the city, we would start by reading or watching a video about the place together, then we would move on to comprehension questions and discussions. The main challenge of the day would be to divide into groups of two or three and create presentations about the different museums, historical events or landmarks in the city. In breakout rooms we had to share out the work, prepare what we wanted to say and sometimes create PowerPoint slides.
Twice during the week, guests entered the classroom: on Wednesday we were given a virtual tour of the Konrad Adenauer museum, which is at his house in Rhöndorf, near Bonn, and on Friday, we were given a presentation on the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Every day we were given a small activity to do as homework and at the start of the week we were given an assignment to deliver a longer presentation on our home town. During the week we heard about Pécs in Hungary, the Canton of Ticino in Switzerland and Malmesbury in Wiltshire.
I have felt the biggest improvement in my ability to speak German with confidence and to do so without an exact plan of each word of a sentence before saying it. Condensing lots of information into presentations and having to make requests to the teacher has made me practice expressing what I mean clearly – even on unfamiliar topics. Finally, though it might sound strange, I think working quickly with so many non-fiction texts has helped me develop my skim-reading skill, so that now I can begin to fill in the blanks of words I don’t quite catch in writing or in speech. On the last day, when everyone was given a chance to reflect on the week, there was definitely a feeling of joint accomplishment, even though we had all only been connected virtually.
I do think people were disappointed, of course, that we weren’t able to get to know each other around the lessons, as we would have if we were working in person in Germany. Our teacher spoke to each of us in turn to allow us to give our final thoughts and to give us feedback on our development during the course. Afterwards we had a celebration event, which included long breakout room sessions in which we could have reflective chats with some of the other British participants in English. These were thought-provoking and sometimes funny, and a lovely end to my experience with the course.
I would again like to express my thanks for showing us the application opportunity. I really can’t wait to start A Level German with you and Frau Barber this September, especially with this experience already with me.
A student's story 3 : Wilf (17) Part 2
ALL asked Wilf to expand on his feelings around German and motivation for language learning for his second piece. When he sent it Wilfred wrote : ‘I have managed to write quite a lot in answer to your questions because I found them all quite thought-provoking. I haven't spent this much time thinking about my experience of learning before and it was quite fun.’
Wilfred writes about German but his reflections on his experiences are equally thought-provoking for teachers of all languages.
Wilfred showed such enthusiasm in his first piece that, for his second article ALL asked him some questions to explore where that motivation came from. His answers are illuminating, and illustrate how amazing our students can be.
How long have you been learning German?
I’ve been learning German since I started secondary school 5 years ago, but I’d say my learning has changed significantly in the past two years as I’ve started to read, listen and study vocabulary much more outside of school.
Have you learnt / Do you know any other languages?
A few times in the past I have tried to learn other languages that have interested me, but German is the only language that I have managed to stay enthusiastic about for more than a few months. This is because every week I have been able to surround myself with the enthusiasm of teachers and other students in the classroom.
What do you think it is about German that has so enthused you?
I’ve been interested in linguistics for longer than I’ve been learning German (that started from seeing the etymology entries in a dictionary at home). The processes of language change and variation of language forms sharing a common root has always been fascinating for me. The close relation between German and English provided an initial spark for my interest, but my experience trying (and failing) to learn other languages by myself tells me that the way that I have been taught German has been a large factor in maintaining and expanding that interest.
As I’ve moved up through the school and my classes have got smaller, my feeling has increased that we German students are like a little club sharing the secret of a subject which most people have never discovered the joy of! It is such a nice atmosphere to explore our favourite subject in, especially when compared to the atmosphere in other classes I have for my other A-Levels.
What do you really like doing in your German lessons?
I’ve really enjoyed the step up into A-Level lessons. We are rapidly developing the ability to understand and express more complex ideas, so we are able to give opinions on the world around us, perhaps focusing on things we’ve never considered in English before (which is particularly thrilling for me!). The greater focus on social issues and the new study of literature means we are practising this all the time.
Is there anything you find more difficult or stressful?
Speaking is definitely still my weakest skill. The two main problems for me are ordering my thoughts to produce sentences without too many pauses or errors, and overcoming the discomfort of speaking to people with a much higher level of language than me.
Another interesting problem I have is that, when trying to articulate a thought in an essay in German, I am sometimes unable to pin the thought down and get a bit lost. When I step back and think about it ‘in English’, the answer comes to me much quicker. I think because my brain has partially switched into German whilst focussed on the essay, it lacks a full vocabulary and because of that, it doesn’t have as much capability to reason. It’s an unpleasant feeling like being blinkered, but at the same time it only feels unpleasant looking back from my ‘English brain’; from my limited ‘German brain’ point of view, I am unaware of what I am missing out on, like a horse that will happily do its work wearing blinkers.
It’s a very peculiar sensation, but I think of it as a step forward because it is a sign I’m beginning to produce German directly, rather than formulating every sentence as a translation from my native language.
What do you think about the content of exams?
I do quite like the content of the German exams that we are sitting for A-level. The extended vocabulary we are expected to know gives the texts and audio passages the chance to cover quite interesting topics which go beyond everyday life. My favourite paper, however, is definitely the literature paper, where you have to focus solely on extended explanations of things which don’t feature in your everyday life at all, like the reunification of Germany.
Is there anything about German you would really like to do (in or out of school) that you haven't yet had chance to do?
I would like to visit a German-speaking country again. It would be very beneficial because I think that I would understand enough in an environment of German-only input to absorb it ; this would then produce jump in my ability to produce German too. On a trip abroad like that, every message you have to process from waking up to going to bed is in the foreign language and I really hope I can experience that at some point.
I would like to explore historical forms of the language and its many modern dialects. I have already learnt a bit about both areas, but I want to be able to study them in more depth, which I hope will be a possibility at university.
On the historical side, I am really interested in how we can catch a glimpse of the unique features of a historical culture in the ways they used their language differently to their descendants. The sound and feeling of medieval German verse is also just really beautiful and a challenging puzzle to decipher and translate!
With dialects, I think the way that dialect interacts with other social markers is really interesting. The way that different dialects are seen by their own speakers and by outsiders has obviously been shifting drastically over the past two hundred years, according to the the various trends and spikes in nationalism, regionalism, migration, education and nostalgia.
A million years ago, I worked as press officer at the local authority and was regularly called on to act as interpreter and translator for the twin cities of Duisburg and Caen. I actually had to stand in front of a couple of thousand people in the Guildhall and interpret for the Lord Mayor during the initial twinning ceremony and then again in Caen.
Anyway, that's not the story. I became friends with people in Caen, and, prior to doing the PGCE, and to freshen up on my French, I did a short work placement at the university in Caen. One weekend I went to Bayeux. Alone, and … I dropped my car keys down a Turkish toilet*, had to get the sewage department called out, eventually retrieved keys, wrote to thank the Mayor of Bayeux and had a lovely reply from him in which he said my story had brought a smile to his lips and invited me to take tea with him next time I was down his way. As a trainer I regularly told my students that if ever there was a reason for learning another language, this was it. And when I did trips to Bayeux, I always included the toilets on our itinerary!
* For the younger reader – in France they used the term ‘Turkish’ toilet for one with no seat – it was just two footsteps to stand on and a hole, with a flush mechanism on the wall.
Liz Lord leads the ALL Primary Hub in Portsmouth
Freya is now (2022) at university. Here she recalls her experiences learning French at school:
Learning French at a primary school level is a prominent memory for me. I found the use of drama (role plays), songs and projects extremely beneficial - I still remember many of the activities and songs we did.
Read more here.
Our story: taking part in the Anthea Bell translation competition
Here are the stories of students from Duchess Community High School in Alnwick, talking about the importance of languages and their enjoyment of the Anthea Bell translation challenge
Stories from the North-East
Thanks to colleagues in the North-East for these stories - one as text and one as a presentation to students in the region.
Le jour où...
On the website of the Institut Français (iFProfs) you can now find podcasts where teachers of French around the world will talk about great moments they recall.
Please click here to view the podcasts.
IFRU Advocacy Toolkit
The IFRU has launched a toolkit on its website to support teachers of French wishing to make the case for learning French to students, Governors and parents. The toolkit includes video stories from people telling their story about French.
For more information, please click here.
Janet Clarke is a Higher Level Teaching Assistant and Languages Subject Leader at Wimboldsley Community Primary School, Cheshire.
Read her story here!