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Archive for June, 2010

Summer holiday catch-up for GCSE and A-Level students

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Now that the exam season is all but finished, it might be time for your older children to think about how they can use the summer holiday break to get a head start, catch up and/or improve on areas where they haven’t performed as well as they might have wished. This is particularly important for students who have just completed Year 9 who will soon begin their GCSE courses, and for those in Years 10 or 12, who will be moving into the critical final phases of GCSE and A-Level next year.

That said, for students in this age group doing a bit of work and catching up over the summer holiday break isn’t just for those who have failed or underperformed in exams. It is also a great opportunity to get a head start and/or keep information fresher. The summer holiday break is quite long: six weeks or so for state schools, around eight weeks for many independent day schools and even more for many boarding schools. Even bright students often lose ground during this time, getting out of good habits, forgetting key information and neglecting skills that they had developed to a high level for the previous exam season.

Three subject areas most at risk from this ‘slippage’ are Maths, Science and modern languages. There are two reasons for this. First, they are among the most difficult subjects any student will be working on, especially at A-Level. Second, each one combines relatively difficult skills with a large amount of knowledge that needs to be learned.

Maths, Science and languages require the student both to develop skills (e.g., solving complex equations; designing, conducting and writing up experiments; forming grammatical sentences) and learn a great deal of information (formulae, physical laws, names of elements and compounds, long lists of vocabulary and tables of noun and verb forms).

It’s not necessary for students to spend their entire summer holiday revising all this stuff to stay on top of it – everyone needs a break, after all. The trick is to ensure that knowledge, skills and relevant thinking habits don’t just drop to the bottom of their minds for six, eight or ten weeks. As a parent, there are several ways you can help:

  • Travel can make an enormous difference. If your child is learning French and German, consider a visit to one country or the other for a holiday or short break.
  • Think about a visit to the Science Museum or the Natural History Museum in London. These aren’t just resources for younger kids – they contain a great deal of thought-provoking, inspirational material for older students, too.
  • Encourage reading – something we’ve blogged about recently.
  • More engaged students can be encouraged to actually pick up their school books during the holiday and have a quick refresher read. You could give them some sort of incentive to do this.
  • Switch on the telly! Keep an eye on the TV listings for programmes relevant to particular areas of study, and encourage them to watch. There’s also tons of good stuff on YouTube, iTunes U and the web in general.
  • Consider hiring a tutor, especially if your child underperformed in the end of year exams. Summer holiday tutoring doesn’t have to be intensive: a ‘slow burn’ approach to help students reinforce key ideas can work very well. It is a worthwhile summer holiday activity that keeps them occupied

If you live in the Greater Manchester or East Cheshire area and you’d like to find out more about how summer holiday tutoring can help your child – especially in tricky subjects like Maths, Science and modern languages – don’t hesitate to get in touch with 121 Home Tutors. We’ll be very happy to advise you, and, if you wish, put you in touch with tutors relevant to your child’s needs.

Learning a language over the summer

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

If you or one of your kids would like to learn a language – or brush up one you already know – the summer months are a great time to take action. Many people have a little bit more spare time in July and August, and because of the school holidays there will be plenty of tutors available to help you with your studies.

Whether you’re visiting a foreign country on holiday or you’d just like a new challenge, learning a language can be a very rewarding experience. Below is an overview of the most popular options:

  • French is still the most popular modern language for Brits, probably because most of us acquired at least a smattering of it at school. As languages go, it is relatively easy, with quite a small vocabulary and a fairly regular grammar. The big challenge is mastering the accent and the pronunciation of words – for some reason, native English speakers find both difficult. One of the secrets of success is to physically move your mouth more than you do when you’re speaking English.
  • German is a bit trickier than French, because the grammar is more strict and the word order is often very different from what we’re used to in English. That said, modern German is similar to English in many ways (both are “Germanic” languages), and most English-speakers find German pronunciation relatively easy.
  • Spanish and Italian, like French, are Romance languages – basically, modern versions of Latin. The two are quite similar to each other, and are sometimes mutually intelligible if spoken slowly. Most people find them easier to learn than French, with Spanish probably the easiest European language if you want to develop conversational ability quickly. One word of warning: the Italians seem to have a real problem understanding foreigners who try to speak their language – it really pays to work on the accent! If you’re seeking to learn for business or employment reasons, Spanish can be a surprisingly good choice – along with English, Mandarin and Arabic it’s one of the world’s most widespread languages, used by half a billion native speakers globally.
  • Russian – now we’re getting more adventurous! Russian is a Slavic language, and very different from Romance (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian) and Germanic (English, German, Dutch) tongues. It has a complex grammar and a different alphabet from western European languages (Cyrillic rather than Roman). On the upside, it is very similar to other Slavic languages, so if you get on well with Russian you’ll find Roman-alphabet eastern European languages (e.g., Polish) pretty straightforward. Russian is also a good language to learn if you’re interested in beefing up your CV – many UK businesses work with Russia, and there is a shortage of speakers over here.
  • If you want a real challenge, Mandarin Chinese could be an interesting option – though don’t expect to grasp it right away! Mandarin is the most important Chinese dialect. It is written using a pictogram system that is completely unlike western alphabets, though when you’re learning you can use a system that converts Chinese sounds into western characters. Another interesting feature of Mandarin is the way tone is so important – a word’s meaning can change completely depending on how you say it. Again, Mandarin will look very impressive on your CV!
  • Welsh is a fun option if you want something a little closer to home, if you are making a move to Wales, or you holiday there regularly. The extent to which Welsh is spoken and used often surprises English visitors. This is especially true in North Wales, where there are plenty of people for whom English is very much a second language. The pronunciation is nowhere near as difficult as you might think, and it’s actually quite a straightforward language to learn. However, it’s worth knowing that Welsh dialects are quite different from one another: although it’s possible to learn a single, formal language (“International Welsh” is the tongue-in-cheek expression), you need to be aware of the differences between North Walian and South Walian versions of the language.
  • If you have an academic streak, it’s worth looking at Latin. You won’t get much chance to speak it (unless you go on holiday to the Vatican…), but learning to read Latin offers huge benefits. For a start, it opens up all of Latin literature – 2000 years’ worth of some of the greatest histories, biographies and poetry ever written. In more practical terms, learning Latin is the single best way of learning about language; it’ll help with learning French, Italian and Spanish (which are really just modern dialects of Latin), and if you have a good grasp of Latin, you’ll rarely write an ungrammatical English sentence. Moreover, it’s a ruthlessly logical language that teaches you to think in a clear, structured way. If you have an ambitious and intelligent child, a bit of Latin can make a big difference to his or her prospects – the subject is shamefully neglected in state schools, but recognised by universities, and even by many employers, as the mark of an academic high-flyer.

If live in the Manchester area and you want some help developing language skills, get in touch with 121 Home Tutors today. We can offer personal tuition in a range of languages, and we’ll be more than happy to help you out.