How to get your learners to speak English

Union Jack

I'd better publish this one today, before Scotland votes "yes" and the Union Jack disappears for ever…

If you've got learners doing things like digital storytelling or project work or groupwork of any kind, it's so important (and so difficult, at times!) to get them to speak English.

Here's an idea a friend and ex-colleague, Rachel, has been trying out at her school in France, which seems to have worked well.

The learners (mostly 12 to 16) made themselves Union Jacks, which one in 3 has to wear, but are only allowed to continue to wear so long as they continue to speak English. If they speak French, their badges are unceremoniously taken off them by their classmates (and, yes, some of them deliberately try to trick the "Brits" into saying things in French!).

Whatever group work continues, but we get both a "winner" — the last Brit standing — and a record, which I believe is currently somewhere in excess of 24 hours (!!!) without speaking a word of French.

They started off using post-its, but a convenient box of unused conference badges (see photo, above) has turned out to be much more durable.

Try it, it's fun… or if you have other, better ideas, do leave them in the comments!

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Haha, yes, fun but in fact they reckon the 24 hours record involved quite a lot of cheating. Actually it must be about 45 minutes max at this moment (I don't keep records, but they do!). Probably works best with anyone but the 16 year odls!

    Having them trying to trick each other into lapsing into French bothered me at first but getting THEM to police the whole thing is better than me having to do it.

  2. Disappointed 24 hours wasn't true, Rachel 😉 !

    I'd say getting your learners to do all pair and group work in English is something a language teacher needs to be bossy about, but you're right, getting them to "police" it is probably the best way to go about it.

    I've had people tell me fun stories about what happened when I got them to go home and speak English-only to their families — like little brothers, Mums and Dads, spouses! Recommend you try it…

  3. Nice idea! I got my adults, when working in pairs or groups, to police only using English by knocking three times on the table and saying "In English, please." it worked pretty well as the knocking on the table could be heard by everyone in the class.

  4. Adriana Bertran

    In small classes with good "only English" habits you can use a clothes peg, too. The first student to slip into L1 gets the clothes peg on their clothes. Their only way of getting rid of the peg is to catch another student speaking in their L1, in which case they can stick the clothes peg on them!

  5. Ha ha, I just LOVE that idea Adriana 😉 !!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *