MOOC helps me Understand Language !

I was really please to complete  the four week MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)  on Understanding  Language.

Run by University of Southampton and the British Council using the Futurelearn platform I found the four weeks of study really did get my brain-box working!



I was interested to improve my own practice as a teacher of French and to help my own attempts to improve my German and Italian.

So what did I take away? Well quite a lot confirmed stuff I was aware of but maybe had not considered so seriously until now.

  • Language is about meaning not words.  I always have learners who seek the security of a word for word translation of idiomatic English phrases. I will make more of this notion of meaning in future
  •  Classroom culture is vital. I always seek to create a fun and relaxed atmosphere but one video input did suggest that there would be ‘no gain without pain’ ! I rather resented this notion but on reading a bit more from Prof Dylan Wiliam (outside of the MOOC) I am convinced of the value of creating ‘desirable difficulty’ .     MY learners can expect me to introduce this notion in discussion (en francais bien sur)
  • Naturalistic and formal language learning.  This was a division  which seemed obvious but of course the real message is to use target language throughout the formal lesson and you get ‘naturalistic’ learning as a superb bonus.


  • A whole week was devoted to technology in teaching and some useful tools and techniques were shared.  Of course I warmed to this but did feel that the only course failing was their use of video which was patchy – some excellent well thought-out presentations but others where I just fast-forwarded the ramblings.


Now the last week! Well here we looked at English. Well I hadn’t come on the course to look at English. I neither teach or learn it.  Discussions focussed on the development of English as a Lingua Franca   (ELF) and if this is seen as a different learning goal from English to be used with native speakers then maybe ELF does not require anglophone cultural context or native English teachers. As a  non native speaker who teachers French I can sort of see the issues raised here but frankly they were of passing interest and not central to my work. The ELF issue that does impact on my work  is the  discourse that heads for the linguistic black hole of:  ‘ they all speak English anyway’ .

The best bit: Well it was the forums. There were some great discussions – I enjoyed learning from other learners,




One Response to “MOOC helps me Understand Language !”

  1. veroniquemermaz Says:

    Hi Alastair, Can’t agree more on the fact that language is meaning. And that the best read for me so far is David Bellos’ s book – translation and the meaning of everything: Most language courses are missing the point. My ESOL training (City and Guilds) was appalling. And the belief than you mustn’t upset people with difficulty, that you have to “entertain” adults so they can learn is nonsense. Do you want your students to learn French? Ditch all the paper work and all the books. Focus on listening and speaking only. All the best, Veronique

    PS. Any information from your network for accomodation in Leicester in July? Merci 🙂

    2016-05-01 21:59 GMT+01:00 Stirring Learning :

    > dontgetlost posted: “I was really please to complete the four week MOOC > (Massive Open Online Course) on Understanding Language. Run by University > of Southampton and the British Council using the Futurelearn platform I > found the four weeks of study really did get my brai” >

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