Comparing Languages

Once your pupils can identify a number of languages, they can then start to explore the similarities and differences between the different languages. This is where their investigative skills really come into play

Word level

a class in a Primary School in Coventry learning language
  • Start off with words from Travlang
  • Take a look at the days of the week in a number of languages. Look in particular at Portuguese. What is the word for day? and what about Swahili? (Both of these languages use ordinal numbers to distinguish days of the week)
  • Why not put the days up in the classroom in a different language each week.
  • And how about the months of the year?
  • Which languages have months which have similarities with English?
  • Here are the numbers 1–10 in many different languages:
  • vocabulary compared in various Indo-European languages:
  • how the English language has borrowed words from many other languages

Sentence level

  • Return to Travlang. Is it possible to make accurate sentences by sequencing the words in the same order as English? What does this tell you about languages in general?
  • Compare sentences in various languages. Use the following links:

  • At text level

    Parallel text work enables pupils to investigate a text in the foreign language using English as a support. In this way pupils can discover some of the key features of a language and compare them to English and other languages.

    Here is a description of a lesson delivered by Maggie Croft at All Saints Church of England School, Coventry from the Ofsted report on the pathfinders:

    The teacher asks the pupils to deduce the language of Harry Potter texts in French, German and Spanish without the help of the English version. Pupils are very attentive and work very hard to identify the right languages. The teacher questions them very effectively to explore the reasons why they selected particular languages. Pupils deduce which book the text is from, using cognates, and say how they have done it. The notion of ‘clues’ as a language-learning strategy is rehearsed and reinforced so that pupils can use it routinely.

    Pupils then listen to extracts of Harry Potter in the three languages on a tape and have to match the sounds they hear to text and deduce the language. They listen very hard and a forest of hands shoots up. The activity captures pupils’ interest very well, harnessing their own knowledge about Harry Potter in English as a reference point. Pupils are fascinated with the sounds of the different languages.

    The teacher shows pupils three different language versions of the hardback book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. They are in awe at the notion that the books are translated into over 50 languages across the world. The next task is to look at the book covers and deduce the language and the title in English. Pupils try very hard and are successful. They pass the books around, handling them with respect; the teacher conducts spot checks, ‘Who has the Spanish version? - very good strategies for harnessing and retaining pupils’ interest.

    She asks pupils to help her put the words of each language title under the language heading. Their task is, in pairs at their tables, to get similar words into the right language and order, based how they put the English title together. They are consistently on task, working at their own pace with the materials and extension tasks. An appropriately challenging deadline is given. The teacher takes the words, all mixed up as in a pack of cards, and one by one says the word in the target language and the pupils help her to put it under the correct language heading and in the correct order so that they can check their own attempts. Pupils enjoy getting their tongues around some of the words.

    (Implementing languages entitlement in primary schools. An evaluation of progress in ten pathfinder LEAs : HMI 2476, July 2005 )

    Here are some simple bilingual stories in English and a large number of languages

    Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky" in different languages: 

© Nick Jones 2003-2008. Advisor for MFL Coventry LEA