Getting reluctant MFL students to learn fast and have fun – there is a way!

Winning students over to MFL!

For MFL teachers the aim is to get their students to learn a second language. Hook or by crook.

It is natural then for teachers to want to explain why learning a language is so important. The problem is that, although learning a language bestows huge benefits on the learner, some students seem impervious to persuasion and are, well, disinterested – and no amount of persuasion will move them. Many teachers (and parents) have told me how hugely frustrating this can be.

This is what a reluctant MFL student hears when you explain the many benefits of language learning:

“An important subject (blah, blah); good grades (blah, blah); career prospects (blah, blah); cultural understanding (blah, blah); useful on holidays (blah, blah and more blah).”

Students: What did she say? Is this lesson nearly over?

That seems terribly cruel – but unfortunately true because I was one of those 13 year old linguaphobes who could not wait for German to finish (sorry Mr Dobson!). My love of learning a language came after school and indeed after university. It was only when I married an Italian that I saw the light.

What to do?

If we can’t persuade them – we can entice them into learning a language!

This is where games kick in. A well constructed game can essentially lure the student into learning – without them feeling like its work. Let me explain.

I have been involved in sport and games for many years (I ran the 1995 World Chess Championships – see picture). Over that time I have seen countless times how games will motivate, energize and encourage players to excel beyond the norm.  The trick that games seem to do, is change the objective and tap into our innate competitive instinct.

Games have the same affect on me. I, for instance, despise running as a means of keeping fit – I mean really detest it. And yet I will run like an idiot to win a game of squash. This game of hitting a small ball between four walls, taps into some deep rooted instinct to try to win. We are all susceptible to it – and if harnessed, can be an amazingly powerful learning tool.

Harnessing the power of a MFL language game

With a language learning game, such as KLOO’s Race to Paris, the aim of the game is to reach Paris first – not learn a language. However, you get there by making French sentences and learning words as fast as possible to score points. In this way, learning a language becomes the means to winning the game.

If you do introduce a game like KLOO into the classroom or home, I urge you to sit back and watch the power of games in motion. It’s not that all of a sudden your students have miraculously fallen in love with language (if only it were true!). No – it’s because learning a language enables them to achieve an objective that is important to them at that moment – winning the game.

Often after a game both the students and teachers are taken aback by how much can be learned in a short period of time…and that it was it was fun. In fact not like work at all – just playing.

Careful – this learning a language gig might become a habit.

Related articles