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Gruffalo author sparks love of languages at school workshop

May 27th, 2016

Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson brought a little magic to a unique workshop which aimed to inspire a love of languages among local children.

Organised by staff at Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls and its prep school, Inglefield House, Thursday’s innovative event brought French, Spanish, Cantonese, Welsh and German to life through one of the children’s favourite stories.

Donaldson herself performed an enchanting reading of The Gruffalo to 80 Year 4 pupils from local primary schools, who were joined by 30 senior students from HMSG, Monmouth School and Monmouth Comprehensive.

The award-winning writer also talked to the youngsters about how the beloved tale has been translated into 71 different languages worldwide.

Julia Donaldson performing a song from her book “The Monkey Puzzle” using Makaton hand gestures.

Senior pupils from Monmouth Comprehensive then treated the audience to a performance of the book in Welsh.

Hilary Philips, Headmistress of Inglefield House, said: “Julia does her performances around the country, but never anything like this.

“She had never seen the story being read in Welsh before.

“At a time when language take-up is on the decline nationally, we are proud to say that isn’t the case at our schools and today is all about sharing the expertise and not keeping it to ourselves.”

The Gruffalo outreach workshop was sponsored by the Goethe Institut, which promotes the study of German abroad.

During an adorable question and answer session with Donaldson, children asked her how many books she’d written, where the inspiration came from for Stick Man, and why The Highway Rat is a rat, not a monster.

She also took the chance to tell her fans about her brand new book, Detective Dog, which comes out next week.

“She’s got a very good sense of smell so she can sniff out criminals,” Donaldson said.

“Her owner takes her into schools because she’s a reading dog.

“She listens to children read her stories and it’s very nice for them because they don’t feel like anyone is judging them if they get the words wrong.

“But one day all the books in school are stolen and it’s down to her to track down the thief.”

After lunch, senior pupils helped mixed groups of Year 4s to start reading The Gruffalo in different tongues, with each child working in four languages throughout the day.

This culminated with the children putting their new skills into practice with multilingual performances of the story.

Mrs Philips said: “Pupils spent the morning getting used to the idea of trying different languages and soon felt relaxed about getting it wrong in front of their friends.

“It’s about breaking through the barrier of ‘I don’t want to open my mouth and sound silly’.

“Not only have they been faced with different languages; they’re getting on and working with people they don’t know, they’ve been chatting and making friends and becoming part of a bigger community.

“I think the senior pupils have got the most out of today – they’ve discovered that you learn better yourself when you’re teaching others.”

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