A Practical Guide to Teaching Modern Foreign Languages in the Secondary School

Series Routledge Teaching Guides
Editor(s) Norbert Pachler, Ana Redondo
Publisher Routledge
Published 2007
Pages 133
Price £17.99
ISBN 0415393280
Reviewed by Mr Mario Moya
University of Bedfordshire
Review published 30 January 2008

In recent years a growing number of books have been published in the field of MFL pedagogy and practice, addressing different and varied issues. In fact a visit to a bookstore can be quite overwhelming with a large number of these books covering areas of the topic partially and very few addressed to trainee teachers or to teachers in their initial training stage. Until now that is…

As the title suggests, this book presents a well balanced selection of articles that cover the most relevant areas in the MFL spectrum ranging from planning, presentation of new language items, practice and production of the four linguistic skills in a dynamic and interactive fashion.

The book is divided into three parts, each of them tackling key pedagogical issues and planning; developing key skills, knowledge and understanding; and broadening the teaching perspective, respectively. Each part contains a selection of articles from different contributors throughout the country addressing different areas from both a theoretical and practical approach.

Part 1 discusses the communicative approach to MFL teaching and learning, highlighting the importance of introducing language in a ‘real life’ context with the intention of making learners independent users of the target language. Theoretical issues, such as the advantages of the CLT approach, as well as the use of the target language in the classroom environment, are presented in practical and easy-to-understand language. This makes for an accessible and interesting read.

The subsequent chapters in part 1 concentrate more on the practical side of teaching: dealing with lesson planning and consideration of those elements which contribute to making an MFL lesson effective. Relevant activities help the reader focus on the teaching context, learning objectives, learning outcomes, assessment opportunities and lesson evaluation.

An interesting insight into the presentation of new lexical items and grammatical structures is provided in the foundation material for Part 2 of the book, which is based around a step-by-step guide of how to approach this area. A special consideration is given to how to select teaching resources appropriately and the types of techniques and activities that can be used when presenting, practicing and producing the target language.

Last but not least, the last part of this section introduces formative assessment in relation to the four linguistic skills. The chapter explains very interestingly the principles behind assessment and concentrates on formative, summative, self and peer assessment. It also provides a solid background on how formative and summative assessments can be used to inform lesson planning.

Within the realm of assessment, providing feedback to students constitutes a specific area of interest, as many trainees and NQTs find this very difficult at first. Starting with what sorts of benefits feedback brings to the students, the chapter moves onto providing the reader with very practical suggestions to gain confidence in this area and give feedback in relation to all language learning skills.

Part 3 deals with three candent topics such as KS2-KS3 transfer, working with other adults in the classroom and, last but not least, reflective practice through teacher research, an area that is at the core of the current teaching practice.

What makes this book so good is its practical design and clear layout. The suggested activities contribute to a deepening of understanding on the topics presented while encouraging teachers to reflect on their own practice. The summaries provided at the end of each chapter give the reader an opportunity to revisit the main concepts. A good selection of useful websites is also suggested linking the content of the different articles with different online resources such as policies, related publications and video-clips.

Almost certainly, because of the plethora of topics that the field of Modern Languages covers both in terms of theory and practice, the editors have had to make a tight selection of subject areas, but this enhances the relevant impact on the teaching practice of trainees and NQTs.

Unfortunately the book doesn’t cover current hot topics, such as, motivating learners in MFL lessons, raising the achievement level of boys in languages, how to deal with transition and progression and the provision of linguistic differentiation for the more and the less able student. These are the issues that trainee teachers and NQTs have to face regularly to meet the demands of their training programmes and those of the National Curriculum.

However, taking everything into consideration, I would recommend this book as a companion to developing teaching practice of MFL trainee teachers and NQTs, as it provides a well balanced selection of tasks and guidance for further reading and research.