MFL: Storytelling in a new language

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By Lucy AdamsonPrimary Languages Teaching Adviser at CILT

Telling stories in a new language is a wonderful way to engage children from an early age when it’s easier to listen rather than read

Children listening to a story

Storytelling is an excellent way to introduce or practise a new language. Children don’t need to understand every word of a story; as long as they get the gist then they will engage with it. This is even more likely with stories they are already familiar with – so why not find translations of classics your class have enjoyed? Examples include The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Puffin) or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury (Walker). See the ‘Joining In’ video on the Primary Languages website, featuring a German version of Eric Carle’s story Have You Seen My Cat?

So, how do you introduce a new story? It’s important to get the children involved straightaway. Tempt them into the story by reading it through first, letting them enjoy the sounds of the new language. Then, begin to focus on key vocabulary, such as names of the main characters, and use different voices to vary the repetition of the new words. Children can demonstrate their understanding by holding up a picture card or doing an action.

Once children are ready to join in orally, why not try speaking as a whole class? This will encourage less confident children to have a go at reproducing the sounds of the new language. Traditional stories such as ‘The Three Little Pigs’ have much repeated vocabulary: ‘Little pig, little pig, let me in!’ and ‘Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!’

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