• Blaine Pike

What's the problem?

We all know how much MFL students struggle with recall. And whichever way we want to look at it, the more words a student knows in a language, the more confident they will be in the language overall. Of course, a student may be able to form the perfect tense in German, but if they don't have any vocabulary to use with it, they can't go very far.

This got me thinking. And ok, I'll be honest - the original focus for this post was on picking out cognates vs. false friends from the syllabus. However, I realised pretty quickly how few cognates were in the AQA syllabus (which, I guess, makes sense).

Why should we care?

Now, before anyone comes at me on the attack (!) I know we're not meant to be introducing KS4 content to KS3 groups in any school subjects, but my thinking was - wouldn't it be sensible to start exposing students from year 7 to more cognates and semi-cognates (even just at recognition level) to help them do the following:

  1. feel like they are making progress in their MFL lessons faster and earlier (something which is particularly important for the lower motivation / ability groups)

  2. start joining the dots between their first and second languages more quickly, and

  3. start conquering the overwhelming feeling that languages present to so many students.

Getting students to understand more words in their language will always help groups to feel more satisfied with their progress in their studies - especially those in lower-ability groups. On the other hand, it's also important to make sure we're constantly challenging those at the other end with language items that are diametrically opposed to their English equivalents.

So... what can we do about it?

To this end, I have programmed a script using Python which tells us how similar two words are between German and English - and then I've applied this to all of the vocabulary on the AQA GCSE German syllabus. Using this, you can sort and filter all of the vocabulary on the syllabus by its "similarity index" across both languages - with a 100% similarity index meaning that the words are identical, and 0% meaning the words are completely different (although, as noted, there are no full cognates on the AQA GCSE German syllabus).

There are many ways you could use this table. For example, when you are introducing new topics to groups, you could start by exposing the topic's "high similarity" (read: easier) vocabulary to your groups first, and then move onto the "low similarity" words as you progress along the scheme of work for that particular topic.

High-similarity vocabulary items are also useful to have for your grammar-focused lessons, when you absolutely don't want to impede the students' understanding of the grammatical concepts at hand by their not understanding the vocabulary items in your examples.

Technically, exercises using high-similarity words could be tackled by students of all ages and all levels. So please do feel free to make some wordsearches or other handouts using these words, and put some around the room/walls for a very quick (and ability-neutral!!) extension task!

Here is the link to the table. Go to "File > Download" to save your own copy:

MFLDataBlog Similarity Index: GCSE German

Remember to subscribe to my email list (below!) to make sure you don't miss out on any future GCSE MFL experiments of mine (GCSE French and Spanish versions coming later this week!)

And - as always - if you see any errors or have any recommendations for improvements, please please please tell me so that I can fix them for everyone else.

Take care folks and hope you have a great week!



As always, my calculations are only as good as my data (which I "borrowed" from AQA!). And computers aren't as clever as humans (thankfully!) so there will always be exceptions in my results. For example, the word "natürlich" is included the AQA syllabus as "of course / naturally". The computer actually sees the English entry as quite different from the German because it is (in the computer's eyes) two words longer and, on balance overall, not as similar. However, if I removed the words "of course" from the English entry, the similarity index between the German and English phrases would be much higher. But that would be a long slog to go through every item individually... maybe one day :)

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