Lately, I’ve been using a trick I learned from my mother. When her class is clearly not listening to her, she switches to Russian, a language she is fluent in. The idea is that after several moments (or more), something breaks through the fog of distraction and kids realize “Wait… something is wrong here.” It’s pretty effective.

I don’t have a language I know fluently enough to do a running monologue in, but I do know a smattering of enough languages to keep it going for quite awhile if I switch it around.

In the past, I’ve successfully dropped a few lines in one of the many mostly dead or obscure languages I know before a few eyebrows went up and someone asked “Huh?”

The other day, I got through French, Italian, Latin, Irish, and some Anglo-Saxon before anyone noticed.

This is not an exaggeration. I wish so much that it was. But it was 90 and sunny out, it was a half day, and even though thanks to a great many snow days we have A WHOLE FREAKING MONTH of school left, the kids are pretty much checked out.

This is the multilingual monologue I gifted my students with.

“I need you to do two things for me now- get out your science folders, and put your bird of prey projects in them.” This was met with no response at all other than continued chatter. I then rephrased it a few times.

“If you do not have your science folder, go get it now. It’s in your bin. Where it has been all year. Est-ce que vous écoutez? Non? Non.”

A few kids started towards their bins, but none actually did what was asked.

“Science folders! They’re green! They say science! Andiamo ragazzi! Presto!”

At this point one of my best listeners gave me a worried look, but was quickly distracted by a classmate showing her a picture of a cat that she had drawn. On her bird of prey report. Over the writing, in fact.

Next I switched to Latin. I took Latin in college, and although I loved it, I didn’t actually remember much of it. With the exception of conjugation and declension. While I can’t create a logical sentence, I can conjugate the crap out of the words I do remember. So I stuck with what I knew. This was also the point where I stopped trying to work in foreign statements in the hope that they would notice, and went all out.

“Potens, potentis, potentium, potentibus! Amici, amicus, amico, amicum!”


On to Irish. Now THAT is a language I can work with. I studied it when I lived in Ireland, under the tutelage of a man who thought we should mainly know proverbs, rousing political statements, and cussing.

“Toicfaidh ar la! Sinne Fianna Fail, ata faoi gheall ag Eirinn, buin dar slua! Buinneach go sal ort! Bi ciuin!”

A few kids looked at me with raised eyebrows, hesitating slightly, but it didn’t do it for the rest.

 So I brought out the big guns. 

In my life, I have taken multiple classes on Anglo-Saxon. 
I've read Beowulf in it's original language. Multiple times.
 (And yes, I did have friends in high school. Boyfriends even!)
So I took a deep breath and yelled, "HWAET!"

Then continued, “We Gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas, ellen fremedon. Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum.”

And by the end of THAT little monologue, they were staring at me with googly eyes, and at least a few looked like they doubted my sanity.

“What the heck was THAT!” One of them yelled.

So the moral of this story is that reciting Old English poetry at a group of inattentive children is a sure fire way of getting them to listen.

Who knew.



4 responses to “HWAET!

  1. I studied French in high school and college and while I’m nowhere near fluent, I know enough classroom terms. I started doing exactly this two years ago and it really is a great management tool! They start elbowing each other “she’s speakin’ French! shut up!” And before long they’re listening and even figuring out what I’m saying. Once I have everyone’s attention, I switch back into English. Glad to see this works for someone else too!

  2. I’ve done that, too! My pupils learn English from grade 5 but for a few years after that, switching to English does the trick just fine. Actually, I had an 8th grade who loved being taught in English so much, they asked me to do it when they were stressed out because they had to concentrate properly.

    Aaaand I’ve used Old English to show them that History is fun – there’s this spell or charm which involves the words “anes handwurmes hupeban”. It cracks the kids up so much to work out what it means!

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