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Using the language of football to engage your students

Alan Redmond, co-author of English for Football, offers teaching tips on engaging your students by using the topic of football in your English lessons. Watch the video to see Alan and co-author Sean Warren discuss how football can motivate students in class.

I teach English to Premier League footballers and Academy players at Premier League clubs. For a football fan like me, it’s a great job and one that I’m constantly grateful for, but it’s a job that I’ve had to mould and shape from the start. I try to do two things: firstly, teach General English using football as a context and, secondly, teach the essential English vocabulary and terminology used in the world of football.

Football has a lexicon of its own. Expressions like ‘drop deep’, ‘man on’, ‘mark up’ or ‘hold the ball up’ are crucial for players to understand and there are a lot more of these expressions that coaches and team mates will use when speaking to a player.

I found teaching the language specific to football to be a little like teaching phrasal verbs to General English students: It often seems fine in class but the students have a high tendency to mix them up immediately after the class. To counter this, I divided the high frequency expressions into categories based on which player would say them and in what situation the player could expect to hear them. For example, ‘mark up’ is something that they will hear from a goalkeeper when defending corners and free-kicks.

Teaching English in a football context is useful for professional footballers but it can also engage students who aren’t professional footballers or even footballers at all. Try our Present Perfect explanation and exercises from English for Football and notice how easy it is to motivate your students afterwards.

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English is coming home

Robert McLarty is Publishing Manager for Business English and ESP at Oxford University Press. In this post he discusses English language teaching in the world of football.

It’s summer, the sun is occasionally shining between showers, and there is a pan-European economic crisis.  Yet for Europe this summer only one thing matters: football. At Oxford University Press’  Headquarters in Oxford, every office seems to have its own sweepstake. Editors, administrators and designers talk of little else. Watching the players on the pitch, everyone in publishing is wondering, “So what language do they all speak out there?”

Is the Slovenian referee B2? As the players shake hands or whisper in ears at corners, what language are they speaking? Did the French team understand Mr Hodgson’s instructions shouted from the sideline? How does an Italian coach deal with his Irish team? What do the Dutch call a stepover or a nutmeg? As the players talk to the press, have treatment, sign autographs or simply order coffee in the team hotel, how much English do they need?

As Sir Alex Ferguson says in the foreword to English for Football, “Football today is a truly global phenomenon. Just as in business or science, in football too, people increasingly tend to use English to communicate”. So just like any other form of ESP, if you are going to operate within this industry, there is a particular lexical set to learn, there are contexts for grammar which make learning more memorable and there are idioms and expressions used within the game which have to be understood.

Before a player’s first training session he needs to know the English for all the kit, equipment and pitch markings such as bibs, cones and box.  He needs to know the parts of the body so that he can describe any aches, pains or injuries. He needs to understand “Drop back! Man on! or Cut inside”. He also needs a context for grammar. For years we have struggled to teach the present perfect with the concept of unfinished time. In football, a season or a tournament is a perfect example of finished or unfinished time. Compare “How many goals has Messi scored this season?” with “How many goals did Messi score last season?”

Anyone who likes football will enjoy learning English through football, just as many kids learn music or maths through other languages. For once we have a book where age does not matter. Whether they are seven or seventy people can enjoy it. As I came through Frankfurt airport last week an official came across a copy in my bag. He took it out and started looking through it.  I offered it to him. “For my son,” he said. “Sure,” I thought.

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