Preparing your Child for Foreign Language Oral Exams

In the UK, children start studying a foreign language at the age of 11. Yet by 14, many have given up on the subject completely. Why? Well, research suggests a big factor is that students perceive good grades to be less attainable in languages compared to other subjects. However, this need not be a reality for your child. After all, the ability to speak a second language will provide a great boost to their confidence and future career prospects. So, how can you help them prepare for their foreign language oral exams?

The good news is that there are many interactive tools available to support your child in learning to speak a new language, enabling them to have fun as they go. Here are my top picks…

1. Gus on the Go

Gus the friendly (and incredibly cute!) owl makes learning languages a fun experience in this this app, which features 10 interactive lessons, engaging vocabulary reviews and games. It’s available in 28 different languages.

2. Netflix’s Language Learning

Netflix’s Language Learning is a Chrome extension which allows learning of language from films and series of programmes. The ability to compare a translation with the audio (sound) and written word means your child can absorb a lot in a quick timescale. It also enables learning at their own pace and provides time to digest more challenging phrases.

3. Memrise 

With the Memrise app, your child can practice specific words or phrases at a time, loosely connected by topic areas and focusing on practical words and phrases. The ability to watch videos of native speakers will help your child to master pronunciation, especially for those difficult words.

A major plus point of Memrise is that it makes language learning fun, with a focus on learning through gaming, known as gamification. The use of memes to help memorise vocabulary is also helpful.

4. Duolingo

One of the most popular language learning apps, Duolingo was created by native speakers and again uses gamification to make language learning fun and addictive. Users earn points for correct answers in a race against the clock. The app is available in 24 different languages.

Online learning platforms, media and apps can provide excellent support for children preparing for oral language exams for their GCSEs and A Levels. They make language learning more accessible and easier to take at your child’s pace. And perhaps most importantly, they provide a fun and light-hearted learning environment suited to their learning style preferences.

Last year, the MPs of Britain voted in favour of a multibillion-pound programme of repairs to the iconic Houses of Parliament; to start in the mid-2020’s.

The Houses of Parliament, or the Palace of Westminster to give it the official title, has stood in varies guises on its site in London since the early Middle Ages. One of Britain’s most well known landmarks, it has been in constant use since King William II ordered its building between 1097 and 1099.

The most well known structure connected with the Houses of Parliament is the New Palace. Built between 1840 and 1870, this stands on the side of the River Thames, adjacent to the clock tower, affectionately known as Big Ben. The New Palace was built within the boundary of the old medieval palace near Westminster Palace (otherwise known as the Great Hall), which is the only remaining building with traces of the original medieval construction phase.

History has given the buildings of Westminster almost as many changes and challenges as the debating politicians have experienced within its walls. Until the 1500’s the main role of Westminster was as a royal residence. This usage came to a sudden end in 1512 when a fire destroyed King Henry VIII’s private quarters, and he decided to move his home to nearby Whitehall. Rather than let the building fall into disrepair however, King Henry allowed Westminster Palace to be used by Parliament whenever it convened. He also used it as a base for his vast legal team, who, due to his break from the Church in Rome and many divorcees, had plenty of work to do.

In the early 1800’s the law courts moved out of Westminster, but the politicians remained. Then, in 1834, fire attacked the building for a second time, and the old Palace of Westminster, which had begun to fall into decay, was rebuilt by Sir Charles Barry. His instantly recognisable building, the New Palace, holds 1,100 rooms, two courtyards and covers eight acres.

Moving the lawyers and politicians into Westminster was something  that became and remains standard, making it a centre for legal decisions and policy making every since. The Palace of Westminster has been host to many of the most famous events in British history, from the Gunpowder plot, the trial of King Charles I, to the assassination in 1812 of Prime Minister Spencer Percival. It was hit on fourteen separate occasions by bombs during the Blitz, as well as a 9kg explosive planted by the IRA that went off in Westminster Hall in 1974 – not to mention the recent controversial Brexit negotiations.

Its turbulent history and extreme age means that the Houses of Parliament are desperately in need of the planned repairs. But the project is far from straightforward. The situation is summed up on (link at the bottom of this page) when talking to one civil engineer, who said that, “Many of the drainage systems we see are still from the Victorian times. Some of them are 130-years-old. The way the building is used today is radically different from what it was designed to do.”

Not only is the building full of asbestos, it is also at risk of fire. The Guardian newspaper reported this week that “fire safety teams constantly patrol the neo-gothic palace of Westminster, which caught fire 40 times between 2008 and 2012 alone; the small fires were quickly put out by wardens.”

An additional problem comes from the brick material itself. The New Palace was originally built using sand-coloured limestone from Anston Quarry in Yorkshire, as it was easy to carve. However, the stone began to decay soon after its construction during the 19th century, leaving it in dire need of replacement or repair by now. There have also been reports of sewage leaking from the Victorian drainage system into MP’s room, roofs leaking and windows decaying.

With the issues of Brexit pushing the start date for the restoration of the Palace of Westminster back, it must be wondered when and if the repair of one of our most well known landmarks will take place. Surely the recent fire in Notre Dame should be a wake-up call as to the urgency needed if this historical landmark is to be saved, before disaster intervenes.

A timeline of the rebuild and renewal phases of the Palace of Westminster to dates can be found here

On Monday 15th April, fire gripped the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The world watched in horror as the spire, made famous by novelist Victor Hugo in his Gothic novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, collapsed amidst the flames.

Talking to The Guardian newspaper, the city’s former mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, was unable to hide his emotion, describing the destruction of the cathedral as “an inestimable loss.” Many of his fellow French citizens share his feelings, though the damage could have been even worse. Notre Dame has been both physically and symbolically important to France ever since it was built, and to see the destruction wrought upon it by the flames has been painful.


Positioned at the eastern end of the Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame was first commissioned by King Louis VII. He wanted it to become a symbol of Paris’s political, economic, intellectual and cultural power at home and abroad.

The placing of the cathedral, over the ruins of two older church basilicas, was overseen by Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris. The first stone of what was to be a massive structure some 130m long by 48m wide, is said to have been laid in 1163, in the presence of Pope Alexander III, who went on to consecrate the Roman Catholic alter in 1189. However, it took a further 200 years to complete the cathedral, with various phases of construction being spread over time due to the demands of cost.

The two massive Gothic towers (68 metres high) which define the western facade of Notre Dame were built between 1210 and 1250. They are adorned with early Gothic carvings and row of figures of Old Testament kings. The cathedral’s three famous great rose windows contain the thirteen century glass they were first built with, but it remains to be seen how much damage the fire has done to them.

The iconic central spire, the most noticeable victim of the blaze, wasn’t the original spire, but one which had been designed by Viollet-le-Duc’s and erected in the 19th century, after the original was removed in the 18th century because of instability.

This is not the first time that Notre-Dame Cathedral suffered damage. Poorly treated throughout the French Revolution, it was only saved from destruction when the Emperor Napoleon decided he wished to be crowned there in 1804. It was after this that a restoration campaign began to repair the building that had stood, watching over Paris, for so long.


Ironically, it has been during a modern period of restoration and maintenance, urgently required, that led to the fire breaking out, in the cathedral’s attic. The blaze quickly destroyed most of the roof, spire, and some of the rib vaulting; not to mention the many items of value inside the cathedral. Of these, a large number succumbed to smoke damage or were broken by falling debris, rather than the fire itself.

As work begins on making the cathedral safe enough to enter, thoughts have already turned to is restoration. Millions of pounds have already poured in from well-wishers to help to save one of Paris’s most respected landmarks, and architects have been invited to submit proposals for the designing and construction of a new spire.

Before any structural conservation can be done however, a team of archaeologists will survey the building. Talking to the BBC, Dr Kate Giles, from the University of York’s department of archaeology, explained that “Early phases of the work will include the archaeological recording of surviving fragments of timber, stone and artworks…This will enable the Notre-Dame team to salvage what can be reused and provide crucial evidence for the design of new fabrics in the building,”

Paul Binski, a History of Medieval Art professor at the University of Cambridge, added, “The upper stonework, the vaulting and the top windows, will have been baked and the temperature will have spoiled and weakened the stone. The first thing they’re going to do is a massive survey of the stone…They’re going to have to scaffold the whole building and look very closely at its condition.”

Estimated to take between five and ten years before it can be returned to the people of Paris as a place of worship, we can only wait to discover just how much of the original Notre Dame has been destroyed beneath the rubble.

Hopefully you have not left all of your revision to the last minute!  But even if you have, these tips should help you.

First things first – relax.  You cannot study well or absorb information if you are stressed. It may be last minute, but you are not out of time. And you’d be surprised at how much you can pack into your short-term memory.

Also make sure you take breaks. A common response to last-minute revision is to try and study for as long as possible. But you will remember more if you take regular short breaks and get enough uninterrupted sleep.

1.      Clock Revision

This is a tip that I first saw on TES and although it is described as a teacher activity, it is adaptable.

How it works: split topics into 5 minute chunks and make notes. That way you will only focus on the key areas and, get through  a lot of information in just 60 minutes.

This leads me to an important tip – don’t sweat the small stuff

When you are revising close to the exams, you need to prioritise on the major topics or key areas of each topic. 

2.      Identify Gaps

Instead of revising material you already know, try and identify your knowledge gaps and focus on filling them. It makes last minute revision both efficient and effective.

A good way of identifying gaps, is by using a checklist or the contents page of a textbook and ticking everything you feel confident on. That way, you can easily see areas that need more attention.

3.      Write your own Exam Paper and Mark Scheme

I love this one. The best way to know any topic is to teach it. And whilst you may not have the time or opportunity to actually teach others a topic, you do have time to write your own exam paper. 

In writing an exam paper, you will be forced to think about the topic in-line with the style of questions you will face in the real thing. The most useful part here is writing the mark scheme.

Look at sample material from your exam board and write in their style.  This will help you revise topics and improve your exam technique.

4.      Keep it Visual

A quick, and more importantly an effective way to revise, is by using visual aids like mind maps. 

Think about memory tricks and visual aids to avoid trying to remember large chunks of text or lots of terminology.

There are many ways to learn online. You can participate in online one-to-one lessons, remote classroom sessions, e-learning or a combination of all three.

Since online lessons do not lend themselves to a traditional way of teaching and learning, some people are sceptical about them. And they are entitled to be, because online courses aren’t for everyone. For most, though, it is a convenient and effective way to learn.

Is online learning suitable for you?

That’s a big question and a difficult one to answer because everybody has different learning preferences.
But, as a general guide, online learning should work well if you:
• Are organised, motivated and self-disciplined
• Have the right equipment
• Do not have serious learning difficulties
• Wish to learn a subject that lends itself to the medium. A practical course like hairdressing, for example, may not be suitable.

What are the advantages of online learning?

There is the obvious advantage of being able to work in an environment you are comfortable in without needing to travel. This is great for most learners, regardless of age. However, it is also true that for some, specific learning environments, like a classroom, work better.

Usually online courses allow you to go at your own pace. This presents an advantage for most people but particularly for mature students who may have other commitments. Since online courses have less overheads for course providers, they are often cheaper than face-to-face learning.
Aside from these specific advantages, online learning shares most of the advantages of face-to-face learning. This is because, with classroom software and even video calling software like Skype, you can do things like sharing screens. So viewing work or learning material is not a problem.
Homework can be completed and marked electronically. Since you may need to take your exam by hand, written practice can be carried out during lessons.

So, should I enrol on an online course?

The only real way to know whether it is right for you is to try a few different types of online learning. See whether you find the teaching effective. Discover if you have the discipline to see it through.
One thing, however, is always true. If you can welcome this modern learning method, you will open the doors to a wide range of learning opportunities.

Famed both for his chivalry and his bravery in the battles of the Third Crusade (1189-1192), King Richard I has been the hero of countless romantic legends, from the time of his reign to the present day. Often held up as a figurehead of English pride and a champion of the oppressed, Richard was given the title ‘Coeur-de-Lion’ or ‘Lion Heart,’ as he was a brave soldier, a great crusader, and won many battles against Saladin, the leader of the Saracens who were occupying Jerusalem. Does Richard truly deserve this image, though?

Born 8th September 1157, Richard was the third son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. His brothers Henry and Geoffrey died- leaving him as heir to a country that he had little interest in. Crowned king in 1189, in reality Richard spent only a few months of his ten year reign in England. In fact, there’s some doubt as to whether he could even speak English, preferring instead to use the French spoken in the Royal Court at Poitiers, where he spent much of his childhood with his mother.

There was fierce rivalry between King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor. The Queen frequently plotted against her husband to improve the lot of France, and encouraged her sons to do the same. In July 1189 Richard and his mother’s troops defeated his father in battle and Richard became the King of England, Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou.

As he’d already vowed to go, Richard left soon after his coronation to join the Third Crusade and free the Holy Land from Saladin. Reports of his daring deeds and exploits in the Holy Land reached and excited the people of England, who sang of their brave monarch’s exploits (particularly the taking the city of Acre on 8 June 1191). However, despite such actions, Richard ultimately failed to regain control of Jerusalem as he’d hoped.

The following September, having secured a peace-deal with Saladin, King Richard made his way back home. However, the ship Richard travelled in was the victim of a shipwreck in the Adriatic, and he was captured by the Duke of Austria. An enemy of England and France, the Duke demanded a heavy ransom for Richard’s release, the paying of which almost bankrupted England. The popular songs of the time turned from celebrating their king’s successes to how his return was costing a quarter of every man’s income for a whole year. It wasn’t until March 1194 that Richard eventually returned to England.

Only a few months later Richard left England again, for what proved to be the last time. He returned once more to France, where he indulged in his passion for fighting, either in tournaments or battles to secure his French lands. Historic UK’s historian, Ben Johnson records, “It was while besieging the castle at Chalus in France that he was shot by a crossbow bolt in the shoulder. Gangrene set in and Richard ordered the archer who had shot him, to come to his bedside. The archer’s name was Bertram, and Richard gave him a hundred shillings and set him free.”

Sadly, the king’s wishes were not followed, and Bertram was executed shortly afterwards.

On 6th April 1196, King Richard died of his wound. He was just 41. As he and his wife, Queen Berengaria, who appears to have been no more than a token wife, had no children, the throne passed to his brother, John.

While contemporary documents record that Richard was a capable politician and a man of great energy, he is also depicted as cruel and hot tempered.  There is some reason behind the good press history has afforded Richard, though. As well as being a lover of the battlefield and tournaments, he is also known to have enjoyed poetry and the songs of the balladeers. Their work, it must be imagined, helped create the often rose-tinted view of Richard. They would undoubtedly have courted his favour by making him their hero. After all, a happy King would pay a minstrel well to hear of his own brave adventures.

Visitors to London today will see a statue to King Richard I seated on his horse outside the Houses of Parliament, a monument to one of England’s bravest and greatest kings. Brave he most certainly was, but there can be no denying that Richard I was also a king who was appears to have been more interested in personal glory than his country, and who spent far more time in foreign fields than our green and pleasant land.

Whether you are an adult learner or a teenager who is juggling multiple subjects, working efficiently and effectively can be challenging.

But it doesn’t have to be. The solution lies in being organised – specifically with your time.

Tip 1:  Use a diary system that works for you

Whether you prefer a handwritten calendar or an electronic one, think about colour coding it.

Perhaps you could assign a different colour for each subject.  Or maybe a different colour for different aspects of your life.

This is a great visual method to ascertain whether you are spending enough time on your learning, and helps you dedicate a solid part of your day to it rather than thinking ‘I’ll do that later’ and never quite getting around to it.

Tip 2:  Quality over quantity

Effective learning doesn’t depend on how many hours you put in. It depends on what you do in that time.

So when organising your learning time, don’t simply slot study periods into your diary. List what you will specifically work on during that time. This will not only help you stay on-track but also ensure that you are making steady progress in all areas that need attention.

Don’t forget to schedule in some relaxation too!

Tip 3:  Master the art of prioritising

Look ahead at your learning schedule and think about what you need to do now, and what can wait until tomorrow (so to speak).

It can be overwhelming when you have a long list of tasks – especially if you feel like all of them had to be completed yesterday. But when you zoom in, you will see that you can divide your list into manageable chunks.

This will help you actually complete your list and is a great strategy if you have a tendency to procrastinate.

Tip 4:  Spend more time on things you find hard

We all like the feeling of being successful. So when we find something difficult, we can often be tempted to avoid it. This is the opposite of what you need to do. Think about it: if you spend more time on things you find hard, they will soon become easier.

Tips 1 to 3 feed into this – if you dedicate specific time to the harder topics, and prioritise them over ones you have already mastered, your learning will be more effective.

Tip 5:  Find out when you learn best

Some of us work better in the mornings, others at night. Still others find it is easier to work in the afternoon. Find out what your own peak learning time is. It will be when you make the most progress, feel freshest and absorb learning best.

Cramming before an exam is tempting and in principle, it can be effective. But only as long as you choose your study time wisely.

On 25th January 2019, the Doomsday Clock was moved closer to midnight, from three to two and a half minutes to twelve.

Created by the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, the Doomsday Clock began as a visual representation of the world’s response to nuclear threats. In contrast to the perils it represents, the idea of the clock is very simple. The nearer to midnight the minute hand is placed, the closer the board of Atomic Scientists believes the world is to disaster. Midnight being a representation of the moment of a worldwide apocalypse.

The aim of this shock tactic is to raise awareness of how close human beings are getting to destroying the planet they inhabit. Speaking to USA Today, a representative from the Atomic Scientists explained that the clock “conveys how close we are to destroying our civilisation with dangerous technologies of our own making.”

When the Doomsday Clock was first invented, the scientists involved were also working on the Manhattan Project; a programme responsible for the construction of the first nuclear weapons. Very aware of the consequences of what they were doing, they introduced the clock to warn of the weapons’ power. In this first instance, the hands were set at 7 minutes to midnight.

Since its birth, the clock hands have been moved backwards and forwards. At its ‘safest,’ it was set at seventeen minutes to midnight in 1991. In 1953, at the height of the Cold War, the clock hands were moved to two minutes to midnight, when the USA invented the hydrogen bomb.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists gives the reason behind the current placement of the hands at two and a half minutes to minute in 2019, as “the failure of President Trump and other world leaders to deal with looming threats of nuclear war and climate change”.

There is no doubt that the reasoning behind the Doomsday Clock is both serious and worrying, but what factors are used to conclude its position?
Eugene Rabinowitch, from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, explains that several factors are taken into consideration when deciding the placement of the hands. These include nuclear threats, climate change, bioterrorism, biosecurity and side threats, such as cyber warfare. “The Bulletin’s clock is not a gauge to register the ups and downs of the international power struggle; it is intended to reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age.”

Just how accurate is the Doomsday Clock, then? Well, the sad truth is that we won’t know until it’s too late. It can’t be denied however, that it does make you stop and think.

War is the only proper school for a surgeon.
– Hippocrates

The First World War was a watershed moment in history. Never before had such a relatively short period in time seen such seismic shifts in technology, society and culture. The newly industrialised nature of the conflict and parallel stalemate of the trenches, all under near-constant artillery bombardment, was fertile ground for rapid innovation. In just four years the battlefields of France and beyond saw the introduction of tanks, militarised aircraft, machine guns and chemical warfare. But what war harms, society inevitably must find ways to heal. These novel technologies of death and destruction brought with them wounds and bodily disorders completely new to medicine, and as a result the medical field would embark on a journey of similarly hasty scientific advancement.

Physical Injury

The nature of trench warfare meant that, with soldiers’ bodies protected most of the time, there were a disproportionate amount of head and facial injuries. Surgeons were at a loss as to how best to treat these horrific wounds and burns, often stitching together open wounds with no time to consider the consequences of the healing process.

At Sidcup in London, a New Zealand-born, British-trained surgeon, Harold Gillies, was a crucial figure in the development of reconstructive surgery. Gillies advocated a highly experimental, never-before-seen method of treating facial gunshot and burn victims with skin grafts – taking tissue from, for example, the chest or leg and using it to repair the face – a technique still in mainstream use today. In a pre-antibiotic age, his pioneering “Pedicle Tube,” a tube of skin leading from the donor site to the graft site, allowed blood flow from a healthy area of the body to the injured area, nourishing the graft tissue, and preventing infection.

Other advancements in the treatment of physical injury included the Thomas splint, developed by Welsh surgeons Hugh Owen Thomas and Robert Jones, which drastically reduced the number of deaths from broken bones, and the mobile X-ray unit, invented by Marie Curie in France and launched onto the battlefields with the help of 150 female operators.

Disease and Infection

It wasn’t just physical injury that soldiers risked on the frontlines. Disease, including the 1918 flu pandemic, accounted for around one third of military casualties, while around six million civilians perished due to disease and war-related famine. After seeing the widespread death caused by Typhoid fever during the Second Boer War, a British bacteriologist called Almroth Wright lobbied the British Army to provide 10 million vaccines against the disease to its troops on the Western Front, preventing, by some estimates, around half a million deaths.

Infection originating from wounds was also rife, thanks in part to the foul conditions in the trenches, where lice and mud were ubiquitous. An antiseptic solution developed by the French-British partnership of Alexis Carrel and Henry Dakin drastically reduced the need for amputation due to sepsis.

The Advancement of Medicine in World War I

From the ashes of war progress so often springs, the decay and destruction of conflict powering innovation and change. The First World War was billed as the war to end all wars, a title that as we well know could not have proved further from the truth, but soldiers and doctors of subsequent conflicts benefited immeasurably from the new medical knowledge, technologies and techniques that emerged from it.

On December 22nd 2018, following President Trump’s request for a federally-funded wall along the Mexican-American border being denied by the opposing Democratic Party, the United States Government found itself , once again, partially shut down. Three weeks later and this remains the situation, the country being held in an ever more expensive, damaging stalemate by a stubborn president and gridlocked Congress.

The shutdown has had a great impact on federally-funded services and has affected nearly 800,000 federal workers, causing many to have to work without pay. It is something that has occurred with alarming regularity under this President, but the latest instance is the most significant to date, becoming now the longest on record and showing little sign of an ending.

Every year, the President must sign budget legislation comprised of 12 appropriation bills, which outline the allocation of the federal budget to different government services and agencies, including the Department of Justice, the Transport Security Administration, US Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Internal Revenue Services. Currently, Trump is refusing to sign a bill that does not include the requested funding for a wall at the Mexican-American border.

Trump’s unrelenting demand for $5 billion to pay for a Mexican-American Iron Curtain has halted the approval of federal spending for the 2019 fiscal year. Democrats in Congress refuse to support any further spending on the wall, while Trump continues to threaten extending the shutdown for months or even years until Congress approves funding for the wall.

Historically, the US Constitution states that Congress has the ‘power of the purse’ and therefore, the power to appropriate government funds. The 1974 Budget and Impoundment Control Act further instilled this, granting Congress greater budgetary power and curtailing presidential involvement in appropriating funds. Government shutdowns usually arise when the President and the House and Senate are unable to resolve budgetary disagreements before interim deadlines in a budgetary cycle. The American government’s unique division of power sets the framework for a shutdown that would not otherwise be possible in countries with parliamentary systems.

However, America is no stranger to full or partial government shutdowns. Classified as a ‘partial shutdown’, this is the 21st shutdown in American history, and as already stated, the longest. The first government shutdown occurred on May 1st, 1980, but lasted only one day. The most notable shutdown in American history previously happened in 1995-1996 when the government shutdown for 21 days due to a dispute between Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican-majority in Congress.

Regardless of how long it takes for the government to resolve the shutdown, the days in which the government isn’t functioning have considerable consequences for national service and federal employees. Chief among these is the fact that the federal employees working in the departments affected by the partial shutdown will not receive pay until it is over.

For many departments, such as the Transport Security Administration, workers are still required to go to work every day despite this lack of pay. With some workers simply unable to even get to work as another consequence, though, greater pressure is put on many of the employees working in roles such as those vital to airline safety. Additionally, with the National Park Services affected by the shutdown, a third of national parks have been closed. Those still open are left open to vandalism and without basic maintenance.

Now, Trump is looking to declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress to build his wall. However, while the future of the wall is still uncertain, the repercussions of Trump’s ceaseless fixation on illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican-American border and his inability to compromise with Congress on funding has certainly been, and continues to be felt across America.

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