Identifying Languages

Collecting language samples

First of all a range of language samples need to be collected. These can be both in written and spoken forms. Pupils may be able to help by recording and writing in their mother tongues. Alternatively the internet provides many opportunities to gather samples.

tower of babel

Why don't you print an enlarged picture of the Tower of Babel and make a classroom display with lots of words in different languages coming out of the doors and windows.

General tasks

  • How many different languages are spoken in your class, school, local community?
  • Imagine that you are in a room where all of the languages of the world are spoken. How many languages could you identify ? How many could your class as a whole identify ? Find out how to say hello in lots of different languages.
  • Get pupils to look at samples of language in their written and spoken forms. What are their characteristics? Script? Sound? Common words?
  • If your school has pupils who speak different languages make a class tape. Exchange it with another class from within the school or from another school. How many languages can the class, as a whole, recognise ?
  • Give each pupil, in a pair, the same 5 written samples. Get them to sit back to back with their partner, and request that one of the pupils places 5 samples in an order of their own choosing. This pupil will then describe each sample without showing it to their partner in order that their partner places the samples in the correct order.
  • Make a class display of all of the languages that pupils can gather from different sources.
  • Can you identify the countries of Europe in their native languages or the Middle East ,or Africa, or Asia, or India.

Cutting and pasting

The following activities involve the teacher in cutting and pasting language samples into a word document or sound file.

  • Take a question in several different languages. Match it to the appropriate answer from the same selection of languages.
  • Make a language identification sheet with written samples of a range of languages. Use the sheet to identify another selection of samples from other sources.
  • Set up language identification parade. Play the class a language sample. Hide another sample of the same language amongst samples of another 3 languages. Can the pupils pick out the correct language?

Quia online activities


Imagine that you have been kidnapped, blindfolded and forced to wear ear muffs. You are then transported to another country. You then have to identify the language of the country of destination from a range of linguistic artefacts such as a radio broadcast, a newspaper, and road signs ( it makes sense to use a language that the pupils have already experienced). This could be tried out with various pupils / groups at various stages throughout the year.

Lost briefcase

Prepare a briefcase with a range of different objects artefacts which relate to its owner and what its owner is doing. These might include; phrase books, diary, letters, tickets and ID cards. Everything in the briefcase will be in a foreign language. The task of the students will be to answer a series of questions:

  1. Identity of the person ?
  2. What are they doing?
  3. What is the best way of reconnecting them with the briefcase?

Language tools

If you cannot recognise a language, use an online language identifier

If you cannot understand a word, you can look it up using Your Dictionary

Here are a range of resources in different languages

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