The Class’s Translator

As a lesson starter or activity consider using a video clip in one of the many home languages of your learners. That student should then come to the front of the class, play the video and ask the other students what they thought was said. Many students will recognise words and with help of the images the students work together to work out what was said. This is a great moment in which the teacher can assess students’ pre-existing knowledge. Then the student at the front plays the video for a second time and translates the script to the class who then check with what they thought was said.

When students are given the opportunity to “show off” their bilingual or multilingual abilities they will not only feel valued but will see themselves as linguistically talented!

adapted from Dr. Jim Cummins, Reykjavik 2015

I have added a link to an example video I used as a warmer activity for a text on the history of pizza. Have a go and guess what was said!

Euronews is a fantastic resource for short video clips in many languages. E.g.:


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Multilingual Story of Events


When you have an exercise in which students have to order certain events or tasks, consider writing a few sentences in some of the home languages of that class. As a result the multilingual students will be needed to complete the exercise as they will have to translate it to their peers. A strong international minded activity in which the EAL learners can link key vocabulary with their home language and they will feel valued for their linguistic abilities.

If you are not sure about Google’s translations, students will gladly help you correct it.

The example below is taken from a recent Shakespeare activity for Year 8 but you could do this activity with recipes in cooking, the rock cycle in Geography, the water cycle in Science, a history timeline, etc.

IATEFL final

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Cognate of the lesson


Cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. For example, “pineapple” is very similar in a lot of languages.



Give the students a list of key words for the topic that you are covering.

At the start or end of a lesson give students 5 minutes’ time to discuss which of the key words is similar in most first languages. That word is called ‘Cognate of the lesson’ . However, the process here is much more important than the end result. It gives your learners the opportunity to link the newly presented academic language with their first language (L1).

The more children develop their L1 academically and cognitively at an age- appropriate level, the more successful they will be in academic achievement in their second language (L2)*

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*(Thomas, W.P. & Collier, Scholl effectiveness for language minority students)


Academic Word Count

A while ago I handed out a reading comprehension on Viruses (from Reading Explorer 3, Cengage). The students’ body language was pretty clear. Oh no, more reading! That was the moment I came up with the following activity: They were to put the reading into a drawing and were also allowed to translate a certain number of academic words. They then had to come and present/retell a summarized version of the text to me, with the help of their drawing and translated words. The one goal of the exercise was for them to identify and use correctly as many academic words as possible. I would count these words during their presentation and then give them a score for ACADEMIC WORD COUNT.

Joris 1Joris 2

I didn’t grade the students, but set a target of how many words I would like to hear. This gave me the opportunity to differentiate according to the students’ abilities. It really motivated them again and they had to read and understand the text in-depth to be able to pull it off. It took a few 50-minute lessons, but it was well worth it and they all enjoyed the activity.

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L1 karaoke

Karaoke is a great language development activity across all skill areas. Many of our EAL learners love singing, especially in their home language. Using this in class can be very powerful and motivating.


Ask your learners to find a karaoke song in their own language. There are many specialised websites (see list below) or your students will probably be able to find it on YouTube. In small classes you could ask each individual student to pick a song. In larger classes you could group them by home language and they then agree on a song.

  • Students can talk about the background of the song, why they chose the song.
  • Each student or group takes turns to come to the front of the class, plays the song and sings along (maybe you could pick the most confident ones to start).
  • The others discuss or write down what they think the song is about based on words they recognise, the tune and perhaps the video clip.
  • The song is played again but now the student pauses after every line or verse and translates it into L2.
  • The line or verse is played again and everyone sings along.
  • Continue with the next line/verse.
  • As a homework task ask the students to write the full translation which then can be displayed in the classroom next to the original version.



If you wanted to take it further, you could  ask your students to record their Karaoke song in English and  create a video clip to go with it. There is a very interesting website where students can share their recordings with other international schools: http://www.popullar.eu/index.html . The project is called POPULLAR and is run by Joel Josephson. Popular is a European Union,   funded, innovative, education project designed to harness music, the primary social interest of secondary school students, in to their language learning.

Karaoke websites with songs in different languages:

A different language is a different vision of life

(Federico fellini)

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Say it with GOOGLE

Google Translate is a great calculator for EAL/ESL students and has its flaws but I find it a very useful tool to use in multilingual classrooms. I especially like the audio playback function which I use for the following activity: (All students will need to have an internet connected device)

  • Students are given a text (example below) and identify target/key vocabulary. This could be any academic language, grammar structures, collocations, sentence clauses, connectors or just words that they think other students need to learn.
  • Pair students with different home languages.
  • Student 1 (S1) types one of the key words or phrases into Google Translate and uses the audio playback function to translate it into student 2’s (S2) home language. S2 should recognise it and tries to find and highlight that word or clause in the their text. Then students switch roles.


  • As a reading comprehension exercise, S1 types a question about the text into Google Translate. S1 then uses playback to ask the question in S2’s home language. S2 then follows the same procedure to reply into S1’s home language.

As mentioned above, Google Translate isn’t always very accurate but mistakes are great learning opportunities. Sometimes, it will highlight the fact that many words have multiple meanings and/or you could always start a discussion about the reliability of Google Translate and other translating programmes.

Students absolutely love exercises like this in which they are able to connect their L1 with L2, communicate in a language they don’t speak and learn key vocabulary in a fun way. Try it out with your learners and please comment on this blog post with their and your feedback.


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Multilingual Displays

Most classrooms are decorated with students’ work, info graphs and posters. Unfortunately they are static and are rarely used for learning. A way to make your displays more interactive is by making sure to leave space for translations for students’ own languages

The photo below is a great example of a multilingual display from my classroom.


Every year I ask my students to come up with their own set of rules for the classroom. They then take a photo that represents that rule and  write down the rules in their home language. This activity is great because:

  • as a teacher I then know that they clearly understood the rules.
  • the students love to see their language represented in the classroom.
  • a display like this can be interactive for years as each year new students with different home languages join the school.
  • it requires minimal effort, it doesn’t have to happen within a lesson and students can come up with their own ideas for displays that would support their learning

IDEAS: For example, on a display like this you could write down History quotes, Science measurement units, laws of physics , CEO quotes, geographical features, musical terms, grammar rules (if you really have to 😉 ) etc…….



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Multilingual Memory

If we want classrooms to be metacognitively aware of language use then our EAL learners are some of the best resources we have to achieve this

                                   Diane Leedham


Students translate target vocabulary into their home language and play memory. When a card is turned the student who speaks that language says the word in her/his language and translates it into English. When a matching pair is found, students need to describe meaning in English. When the game is finished, T hands out A3 posters with definitions of the target words on top. All students stick their home language word cards on this poster which can then be displayed around the classroom.


This doesn’t necessarily need to be played in pairs or only with EAL learners.  It is again just a fun way to incorporate home languages into our lessons with minimal effort.


  • Take away the English words to increase difficulty.
  • Turn over the English words as well and play memory finding matching trios.

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Gap f__l with a twist


Instead of a normal gap fill exercise, one of the students, whose home language is not English, chooses 10 words from a text and translates them into his/her home language. That student then reads the text aloud while other students who are listening guess the words based on the context.

This activity can also be done in pairs or small groups. The speaker could give hints and examples, say the rest of the sentence, paraphrase if needed. After the listener(s) find all the words students could change roles and do the same thing again. They can choose whatever words they want – hard, easy, interesting, fun. The objective is the thinking and talking about the key content and newly encountered knowledge. Example taken From Year 9 Exploring Science course book:

Active and creative (original)uses of home languages

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Jeopardy- Waagstuk-ジェパディ- Va banque

Jeopardy is a television game show/quiz competition in which contestants are presented with general knowledge clues in the form of answers, and must phrase their responses in the form of questions.


As a lesson starter or activity write down a question in one of the home languages of your students and the answer in English. The students have to work out the correct question. In this case: “What is the largest desert in the world?”

If you don’t speak that language just translate it in google translate. If it is wrong the student who speaks that language can correct it for you.

Following example could be used as a an intro on the topic of dry worlds in Geography

IATEFL final

To make it more challenging you could use multiple choice answers.


or work out an entire mathematical problem.


If you have a bit more time, you could create a whole revision quiz like this on Kahoot and include all of your students’ home languages.

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