Football and Language learning

Bethnal Green Academy is a high-performing mixed academy for students aged 11-19 years old. In 2012, the school began working with the innovative Arsenal Double Club, a combined football and language learning programme which was devised to improve students’ motivation for language learning. Following on from the programme, in 2013, the school began a project combining German with Brazilian Portuguese which led to an opportunity to take a group of students to Berlin to experience German culture and language firsthand. During the time spent in a Berlin school, Bethnal Green Academy enlisted the help of online language learning tool, Vocab Express. Elizabeth Manrique, Director of Learning for Languages at the school tells us more.

“Outstanding and innovative learning and teaching is at the core of everything we do at Bethnal Green Academy and we value the contribution that every student makes. Staff are lucky as we have a lot of autonomy to support this. We were first introduced to the Arsenal Double Club when Steve Eadon, the programme’s co-ordinator got in touch with us over email. After an initial meeting talking us through the model, we jumped at the chance to offer this unique learning opportunity to our students. The Double Club Languages’ resources were developed by specialist linguistic and cultural partner organisations in cooperation with Arsenal in the Community. Focusing on Key Stage 2 and 3 curriculum topics, combined with authentic football vocabulary, the resources inspire pupils’ interest and confidence in languages, in addition to providing them with an insight into other cultures.

We used a wide selection of resources from the programme with our Year 8 students to boost their enthusiasm for languages ahead of their GCSE options. These included audio resources where students could hear their favourite football players speak in their mother tongue. The programme was delivered in two 45-minute ‘halves’ – one practical, one theory – and the languages and PE departments worked well together on this. At the end of it, Steve Eadon, organised a trip for our students to go to the Emirates Stadium.

Following the programme, the principal of our school asked me to look at organising a language exchange trip and suggested I speak to Steve Eadon to look at the possibility of planning some collaborative fundraising activities. Through Steve I was introduced to Karl Pfeiffer, Director of Educational Links at the London Institut Goethe, who had some funding available for an exchange trip to Germany. He generously gave us £5,000, the Arsenal Double Club gave us an additional £2,000 and as a school we matched this so that we had enough to take 18 students to Berlin.

Our project involved delivering bite-sized language bursts to students in our football teams for 15 minutes each week before their usual football training. From there, to enable us to choose the 18 students from a potential 50, we set a number of different challenges, including learning 1000 words in both German and Brazilian Portuguese, writing a statement about why they’d be an outstanding ambassador for the academy, and creating a video about how languages would help them in the future.

We don’t currently teach German in the curriculum at Bethnal Green Academy so thought it was a good opportunity to offer students the chance to learn the language. We also wanted to do something linked to the World Cup 2014 in Rio, so we challenged students to learn Brazilian Portuguese. In order to assist this, we needed to find a language learning resource that presented language learning as achievable, rewarding and fun. We also needed a resource that could monitor their academic progress so that we could see where they were excelling and struggling and support them accordingly.

I met Justin Sycamore, Vocab Express’ managing director, at an event on motivation in language learning organised through the Arsenal Double Club two weeks before the German exchange trip. Having linked up with a school in Berlin, I explained we wanted our students to spend a day at the school, playing football and competing in a language competition to learn Brazilian Portuguese against the German students. Having run several successful language competitions, Justin explained this was something Vocab Express could devise specifically for us. He also told us about their involvement in the 1000 Word Challenge, a language campaign calling for everyone to learn 1000 words in another language which Vocab Express provided the free online platform for. We decided this would be perfect to use in the run up to the trip so that students could pick up some essential German vocabulary.

The trip was a complete success: the students loved the excursions and meeting and making friends with the German students. All also said how much they thoroughly enjoyed putting their German and Brazilian Portuguese to the test using Vocab Express and that the competitive element spurred them on to score more points. Two of our students, Guled Abdi and Sami Rahman, got the highest points in the time they were given, so they were thrilled and won special prizes from the Arsenal Double Club! I would definitely recommend both the Arsenal Double Club programme and Vocab Express to other schools. In fact, based on our work with Vocab Express, we are keen to subscribe to the language learning tool from next academic year and I’m looking at getting staff involved in the 1000 Word Challenge, competing against each other to further increase interest in language learning among our students.”

Case Study

Bethnal Green Academy

London Borough of Tower Hamlets, London
June 2014