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A nine year old boy and his mother - who is the head of French in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Aston University - have been teaching youngsters French through YouTube.

The channel was set up by Aleksandar, a pupil at Ash Green School in Coventry in response to Covid-19 to help his classmates keep up with the language whilst learning from home.

Aleksandar, who is the star of the videos and does most of the narration, covers a wide variety of topics in French, with the aim of using ordinary activities to practice the language and learn new phrases.

Under the guidance of his mother (or ‘Maman’), Dr Emmanuelle Labeau, senior lecturer in French language and linguistics at Aston University, Aleksandar has produced videos which include the classification of animals, making banana bread and an experiment on how to make a rainbow. Some of his videos have now amassed hundreds of views with over a hundred subscribers to the channel.

The video tutorials are being used at Aleksandar’s school to help fill the gap of French class whilst pupils are at home: “I started this channel because we are in lockdown, without our usual classes, so I thought I could help by trying to teach my friends on YouTube” says Aleksandar.

Filomena Benford, the headteacher at Ash Green School, said: “Aleksandar’s video about the rainbow is a wonderful example of exactly how languages should be taught and learnt. His explanations and illustrations are clear and accessible for independent learning, which is perfect for this difficult time during the lockdown. 

“Year 7 Ash Green School French students have been set Aleksandar’s rainbow video on his YouTube channel as a starter to one of their distant learning lessons. They will not only be revising their French colours but also refraction for their physics. 

“I believe that languages are simply the vehicle to learning. We can learn in any language. So why not use a second language to learn content needed for other subjects?” 

The YouTube channel is proving popular with other schools across the region and beyond. Aleksandar's videos are shown on the “Pinterest boards” of St Jerome's School in Harrow, one of the few bilingual English-French schools in the country.

The education authority in Birmingham has endorsed the initiative, which uses the CLIL approach (content and language integrated learning) - a method of learning through language, which is popular in Europe- and championed by the University’s Centre for Language Research at Aston University and Learning through Languages, UK, a national consortium convened by Dr Labeau.

During the lockdown, the University’s Centre for Language Research (CLaRA) is offering training in content and language integrated learning (CLIL) – teaching subjects such as science, history and geography in a foreign language to students at all levels from nursery to tertiary education. An online course will also be delivered this month by an acclaimed team of trainers from University College London CLILedu, and the Summer University of Lapland.

Dr Labeau, course coordinator, said: “In CLIL lessons, the foreign language becomes the means for learning content. Students feel more motivated to learn the language, because the focus is on using language to explore and discuss concrete topics rather memorizing lists of words.

“It has been really good to help Aleksandar use the CLIL approach to make interesting and engaging videos in French for his friends and peer group.”

Kate Buckle
Article by Kate Buckle
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