Languages homework advice for parents

Languages is a subject area that many conscientious parents worry about.

At Parents’ Evenings we teachers regularly hear things like: “I can’t help him with his French – I was never any good at languages at school”.

Here are some thoughts on how you can help.  Language learning should be viewed a little like learning an instrument or a sport; your child will need time, space and encouragement to practise regularly. Indeed, the occasional opportunity to perform will be a huge motivator too.


  1. Test them on their vocabulary and verb endings – there is no way around it, vocabulary needs to be learnt. There are so many ways to learn vocabulary; using flashcards, sticking post-it notes around the house, grouping words by gender, listing them alphabetically or thematically, making excel spreadsheets and hiding columns.  You can test them regularly, sharing the journey to learn new words yourself and helping them find their most effective way to learn.
  2. Once they believe they have grasped the formation of a new tense, get them to teach it to you and explain how it compares in form and use to English. As well as the educational benefits associated with explanation, it will be motivating for them to hear you struggle over the pronunciation/ This will help you share the journey as you are inspired to learn with them.  You can follow Duolingo on your smartphone or invest in a suitable grammar book and progress with them with some healthy competition!
  3. Encourage them to speak the language as much as possible. When the question “How was school today?” is greeted with a teenage grunt, take another approach such as “Tell me 3 things you did today in French”. Get them to tell you and confirm what they’ve said in English.  Similarly, to practice the future tense, a question every Sunday evening might be: “Tell me 5 things you are going to do a school this week.”
  4. Invariably, teachers will create targets for students to work on in order to improve their next piece of work. It might be something like “to improve, check: adjective agreement, include more opinions and use more modal verbs.” Over tea, before your son or daughter embarks on their latest German homework, ask them what the areas for improvement were from last time and how they are going to attempt to address these areas.
  5. Support smart use of resources. Before starting a prep for Languages, students need all of their resources to hand – vocabulary book, dictionary (traditional preferably, but also online), as well as their exercise book and coursebook. You can help promote the sensible use of online dictionaries.  Simply inserting lumps of text into Google Translate is not developing and linguistic skills and invariably, it will be obvious to the teacher, either because the language is incongruous with other language produced, or because the words have been translated too literally and are completely out of context.  Similarly, when using an online dictionary, you can help them realise that it is no use inserting conjugated verbs (e.g. drinks) but rather you need to have the infinitive (to drink) after which they can apply the rules of conjugation learnt in lessons.
  6. Provide opportunities for them to use the language for real purposes to build confidence. This may be choosing to take your family holiday in a country where the language is spoken, spending time in places where English will be less prominent. Alternatively, it could be a family meal at an authentic restaurant where some or all of the staff are from the country.  (These are obviously intended for post lockdown/post-Covid times).  Other creative and beneficial ways of using the language for real purposes could include sponsoring a child in Spanish-speaking Central America or a Francophone country for example, through various charities, and having regular communication.
  7. Attend cultural events and performances associated with your child’s foreign language(s) whenever you can, real or virtual.
  8. Tap into their interests by encouraging them to listen to music or watch films in the foreign language. They can find the song lyrics on Google and follow them while listening and join in. Look if the language being learnt is an alternative setting on their favourite film which they can watch again with you in the foreign language with English subtitles.  You’ll be surprised how much extra language they pick up.
  9. Be nostalgic through purchasing or downloading the foreign language version of a storybook your child used to enjoy as a toddler. Such books are excellent. Your child will already know the story and will be able to make useful deductions on vocabulary and invariably, such books are excellent to see verbs used in context.
  10. Place a strong emphasis on discussion and debate on various topics. For success at GCSE/IGCSE/A Level, your child will need strong opinions on areas such as school uniform, healthy living, their local area, friends vs family; in Rhetoric, the list is endless. Ultimately, they need to have opinions on things and this is of wider importance for their education.  They can watch TED talks (preferable with subtitles in the language they’re learning) and read a quality newspaper, a paper version or online.
  11. Follow the College Twitter feed. You will find information from the Department that we have asked to be shared, news, competitions etc for all year groups.
  12. See if your and/or your child’s favourite sports stars, musicians or actors are active online in other countries and languages. Or do a Wikipedia search about them in another language and see what you understand. You might be surprised!
  13. Where and when possible, post lockdown and post covid, support College trips which are tailored to enable students to embrace the foreign language and its cultures.

Please do not hesitate to contact Mrs Hill, Head of Languages, for further advice.