Everything but the kitchen sink

There's no simple recipe for learning French, German or Spanish. However, one way of picking them up is to start with a cookbook ? after which they become a rapidly acquired taste
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1 Use the kitchen

Find a simple recipe in the language you are practising that's typical of the country of your choice and that your family would enjoy. Foreign-language magazines are readily available in large newsagents and the internet is another good source of information.

Possibilities might include salade niçoise, Frikadellen (German meat balls), a pasta-based dish or a simple paella or omelette. Read the recipe and assemble the ingredients and utensils needed, practising repeating their names as you work. Ask questions like, "Where's the saucepan? Is it in the cupboard?" and use simple phrases like "Here's the big spoon, it's very useful". Cook the meal together, using the new vocabulary to talk about what you're doing as well as practising simple phrases the child already knows such as "pass me that" or "be careful, it's hot". Don't forget to praise the chef: Délicieux! Delicioso! Lecker! Delizioso! And carry on at the table, asking for plates, salt and pepper, bread, salad, water in the language that you are working on.

2 Practise directions

Set up a simple treasure trail round the house and garden, with 10 or so foreign-language instructions such as "look behind the garage" or "now go to the cupboard to the left of the fridge" written on slips of paper. Each clue should lead on to the next, and the last clue could reveal a small prize; perhaps some sweets. Or leave another surprise with each clue: perhaps the parts of a cardboard body that have to be put together and identified at the end of the game, or letters that can be rearranged into a word, or the words of a sentence that can be pieced together.

On a family outing to a destination the child knows well, ask them to direct you, on foot or in the car. They may need to check vocabulary in advance for phrases like "turn left at the roundabout" or "walk to the post office and turn right". Be ready to ask "are you sure?" or "is that right?" or reinforce with "yes, that's right" in the appropriate language. Or get the child to draw a route map, marking on it traffic lights, different shops, churches, zebra crossings and anything else along the route they can think of.

3 Photo-diaries

Get your child to make a holiday photo-diary. Take photos on outings or simply record everyday activities like gardening or going to the shops. Stick the pictures into a scrapbook and make a simple narrative in the language you are practising: for example, "here we are at the beach" or "Mum eats a huge ice-cream".

Use a dictionary to look up any unfamiliar words, and add any appropriate souvenirs that can be stuck into the book: tickets, brochures, maps and so on. Label them to add to the story. If you have a digital camera, the child can make up their diary on the computer.

4 Simple games

Play "Who am I?" by writing the names of a number of famous people on pieces of paper and dropping them into a hat. Choose names where the vocabulary needed to identify them includes words you know your child is familiar with, or this game can become frustrating. Choose one slip of paper at random. Your child has to work out who the famous person is by asking questions in the language you are using (eg, "Are you a singer?"). Then swap roles.

"I Spy" also works well in other languages; or, if you're travelling abroad, prepare a list of things to look out for and tasks to perform. For example, the child has to say hello to someone, or buy some sweets or a stamp for a postcard home in a shop; find the price of a loaf of bread or discover what time the local postal collection takes place; find a bus timetable and see what time the next bus out of town is leaving. You can tailor this to the child's ability.

6 Take a challenge

This is the European Year of Languages, and children are being encouraged to take on a language challenge and arrange sponsorship to raise money for charity if they complete it. Challenges might include learning enough of their chosen language to be able to order a meal on holiday, write a letter to a pen-friend, or tell a story to friends from abroad.

You set your own targets and work towards them. Successful challenges are rewarded with a Languages Challenge Certificate. As well as school pupils, adults, community groups and businesses are taking part, so the whole family could take on a joint venture. For more details and/or a registration form, see www.eyl2001.org.uk, or contact Free-phone 0800 100 900.


Exercises compiled with the help of the Association for Language Learning, the BBC, and the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research/National Advisory Centre on Early Language Learning