Learning languages with Scratch

By Jesualdo Martínez. Posted

Scratch and other programming languages are handy educational tools for learning languages

As the Spanish and Computing coordinator at my school, the Premier Academy in Bletchley, I have been trying to use programming activities to improve my students’ Spanish skills. Like other teachers, I have been very impressed with the capabilities of Scratch, a block-based programming language and online community. With Scratch, children can program and share interactive media such as stories, games, and animations; it offers students opportunities for deeper learning and understanding of their work in different areas of the curriculum, such as Maths, Art, Science, History, and Modern Foreign Languages (MFL).

Why combine programming with MFL?

By combining programming with Spanish, the children are forced to think creatively and systematically; they have to apply logic to their actions, which helps develop their reasoning skills. They work in pairs and small groups, which encourages collaboration, an essential skill for everyone in today ́s society. As the learners need to record words and sentences to add to their projects, they improve their speaking and listening skills. Recording themselves and listening back as many times as they like can help to identify errors in pronunciation and boost their confidence. Here are a few of the ways I’ve incorporated programming into my Spanish lessons. 

Animated illustrations

As MFL teachers, we can use Scratch to improve children’s vocabulary skills. They can design animated illustrations about the different topics we have previously worked on in our lessons, such as body parts, classroom objects, or food. Once they have prepared the images, they add text to the different objects so that they can practise their spelling skills; finally, they record their voices, which also helps them to improve their pronunciation skills. In this way, my students have designed cookbooks and interactive body part illustrations.

Interactive games

Another strategy is to ask the children to design interactive games that use the vocabulary they are learning in the lessons, for example making games in which they click on the different words they are listening to, or quiz games in which they have to answer real questions about the topics they have been working on.  Something that is a little more difficult, but extremely rewarding, is to create games in which the player clicks on words in the correct order to make a sentence. If you click the wrong word it turns red, while it turns green when it is correct. Another great game is ‘Match Pairs’, which can be played with pictures, words, or both and involves exactly what the name suggests. This is a great way for children to learn new vocabulary through play.

Animations and interactive stories

My students love to code their own animations and interactive stories, and this contributes greatly to improving their grammar and communication skills. It promotes creativity, collaboration, and engagement. This allows them to practise writing skills as they prepare a storyboard, draft the script, edit, and rewrite it. Without realising, they are learning by themselves by researching information in their books and dictionaries. They can choose any character they like, switch backdrops, make their characters have a conversation, move the characters, and change an element in the story when they click on it. It’s guaranteed to be fun!

Once their projects are finished, the students share them with their partners so that everyone in the class can enjoy and benefit from each other’s work. 

Labelling the body!

The end result

Incorporating these programming activities into my Spanish lessons has been very motivating and positive, not only in developing digital literacy, but also in improving students’ language skills. This has been reinforced by research. Studies have shown that the use of programming activities can be a good way of improving both academic results and student motivation.

As the Computing and Spanish Coordinator at my school, I always try to use technology as an integral part of my language lessons. Scratch is just one of the many tools that educators can use to make lessons more motivating, collaborative, exciting, and engaging for our students and their different learning styles.

Scratch is free, and with a teacher account we can create accounts for groups of students and manage their projects. The Scratch website has many resources, tutorials, and ideas to try in various areas of the curriculum.

Further reading

'Computer Programming as an Educational Tool in the English Classroom: a Preliminary Study’, 2015, Global Engineering Education Conference, Jesús Moreno-León and Gregorio Robles, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, Spain.

‘Using Scratch to Teach and Learn English as a Foreign Language in Elementary School’, 2016,  Sandra Costa, Anabela Gomes, and Teresa Pessoa, International Journal of Education and Learning Systems.



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