Talking Football with Complete Beginners

I’m working with a small group of Polish beginners. We don’t have much shared language but we’re managing each week to communicate through mime, drawings, ELTpics, dictionaries and, increasingly, fortunately, English!

I knew they had recently had a tour around the sports and leisure facilities at the community campus and that they had been really interested in what was available. (I knew because I’d been with them!) So, yesterday, I had planned to work on language relevant to the sports and fitness activities available. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was going to do – I wanted to see what drew their attention, if anything – but had thought that they might like to understand what activities were available, that it would be useful for them to be able to ask about and understand prices and to learn some vocabulary around swimming – lanes, public, adult, lockers, changing room, lifeguard, towel. So armed with some leaflets from the recreation centre, a laptop from the library – because that might be a better way to show what Zumba was than any mime I could do! – and my ideas, I was ready to see what happened.

The first learner came along. We greeted each other. I asked how he was. He was ok, very very ok. The was a brief silence and he filled it. He asked me if I had watched the football. I hadn’t but I knew about it, just! We started to discuss it and I recorded the lexis needed on my slips of paper. When the other learners arrived I asked if they had watched the football. They had and so we continued. I found out that one of the matches went into extra time and then a penalty shoot-out. I asked if it was exciting. Slips of paper and footballThey didn’t know that word. I mimed but also found it in the Polish-English dictionary. Yes, they all agreed. It was very exciting. Using drawings and mime, they asked how to say goal, goalkeeper and kick. They looked up save and using a variety of sources and strategies we built up a set of football vocabulary – football pitch, referee, whistle, score, half-time, corner, team, red card, yellow card etc.

Two learners had been to Glasgow at the weekend and had seen the Celtic and Rangers stadiums. This took us to a discussion about the weekend. We touched on food too. I’m not sure how this linked to what we were talking about other than one learner remarked that there was no English for bigos in the dictionary. They told me how it was made and what other foods they liked. This part of the conversation served to recycle language from previous sessions – food, like/don’t like, simple sentences.

To review, we came back to the football vocabulary and recapped our discussion and I learned a bit more. I found out that the final is going to be on 19 May, so I’ve told them that after the 19th, we’ll use all the language we found today to talk about it. They asked me if I would watch. I said I would. I will! Who should I support? They said Chelsea.

I enjoyed our session and I think they did too. They took lots of notes, asked questions and introduced new topics. They were interested in the topic and it was relevant to their lives. They’ll have opportunity to use it again soon and, hopefully, it means they’ll increasingly be able to have conversations with English-speaking colleagues and neighbours.

Perhaps, next week we’ll do what I had planned for yesterday…

9 Responses to Talking Football with Complete Beginners

  1. Ah, this is the kind of posts I would give to student teachers. An example of how the clever teacher can milk a subject the students are interested in, even if the teacher isn’t particularly “into” that subject herself!

    • Carol Goodey says:

      Thanks, Naomi.

      It’s really reassuring to get a comment like this.


    • Lexical Leo says:

      Second that! i.e. getting student teachers to read posts like this.
      P.S. Did you ever get round to using the leaflets from the recreation centre, Carol? 🙂

      • Carol Goodey says:

        Thanks Leo!!

        And, not yet…


      • Carol Goodey says:

        We have now, finally, looked at the recreation centre leaflets – complete with mimes of Zumba, aqua fit, Tai Chi and weightlifting (not all by me!) 🙂

        There were also opportunities to revisit numbers, times and to introduce/ recycle questions. Learners also planned when they would go swimming!

        It was hard going to start with (not necessarily a bad thing) but generally it seemed useful and worthwhile for consolidating and adding to what they could do and what they knew about the language and local environment.


  2. Hi Carol! I don’t know if I would ever have been brave enough to begin talking about football with my learners (I know next to nothing on this subject!) but this just proves that you do not need expert knowledge to be able to elicit language and engage learners in talking about something important to them. Enjoying your blog – thanks! Genny

    • Carol Goodey says:

      Hi Genny!

      Football can be a great topic because there’s usually a genuine information gap between the students and me. I got the best explanation of the offside rule from a different group of Polish people. Teaching English can be very informative! 😉

      Easy access to the community library – we meet in a room just off it – helps a lot if I’m not sure of terms.

      I’m really glad to know you’re reading my blog and enjoying it. It’s very new. I’d been thinking I should start one for a while now. Your blogging gave me the final push I needed. 🙂


  3. I’m very glad I provided the final push! It sounds like our teaching contexts are fairly similar – I also work a lot with Polish learners, and we are based beside the library too. Looking forward to reading more!

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