The Voice – Using it (and losing it) in the MFL classroom

Only when you lose it do you realise how often you use it.

That is certainly true of your voice. I sit here with that most common of teacher ailments, the sore throat. I turned to thinking about just how versatile and powerful a tool the voice is for teachers in general, and MFL teachers specifically.

In behaviour management, the use of the voice is well-documented. Full-on shouting is not an advisable strategy (who is the adult in the room, after all?) not merely for the effect on your vocal chords but also on your relationship with the class in question. The voice should be used in moderation as a tool of finesse for guiding, not as a would-be weapon of mass destruction, seeking to send students cowering behind their pencil cases for fear of where the next vocal salvo could land.

Only yesterday, I saw two PGCE students use their voices well to control a class. A sudden rise (not too high!) in teacher volume brings a class to attention, followed quickly by a drop in volume to quiet will have students straining to hear and ‘shushing’ each other to ensure that they can follow. There will be times though, when the next key string to the bow may be required.


(Insert appropriate picture of tumbleweed cartwheeling in the desert breeze with the solitary bell of the frontier town church tolling regularly and mournfully from the middle distance)

We’ve all done it. The eternal wait for a class to be silent. Have you got the nerves of steel required?

If so, most of the time, it will pay off. If not, sanctions kick in.

I also tend to use the ‘counting down from five’ chestnut, in whichever language is appropriate (and occasionally one that is not). As soon as zero is reached (and my shared expectation is that it will not be) I will start to count up again. Whichever number I reach before silence is achieved equates to minutes at break time, most often served by the persistent offenders as opposed to the whole class.

Pausing mid-sentence is another well-used strategy, as students …………. wait to hear how you are going to finish it off.

In MFL, the voice really comes into its own. Songs are always a hit, even with the older year groups. The Alphabet Chant, Head, Shoulders etc, Quelle est la date  de ton anniversaire, San Fermin  are all tried and tested for me. I am looking forward to picking up some more at ILILC4.
High voice and low voice to distinguish between masculine and feminine, particularly with adjectives (such as nationalities), gives Year 7 specifically the challenge to go as low as me for the masculine (and me to go and squeak as high as them for the feminine)

No doubt, there are many others as well. In fact, some we develop as we go along in teaching to such a point, that we hardly know we are using them. They are second nature.

My main aim now though is to go and search for the voice that I have lost. I need it back now please.
Pass the Strepsils.