Learning English through football

Damian Fitzpatrick - PhotoBy Damian Fitzpatrick and Damon Brewster

As educators, we all love those ‘teaching moments’ in a class, when an unplanned event provides occasions for engaging and motivating our students in the learning process. Wouldn’t it be great if these unplanned moments could be extended and somehow made to occur regularly? While not exactly a teaching moment in the classic sense, the genesis for the site I and my colleague, Damian Fitzpatrick run, languagecaster.com, came about in 2006 because of the convergence of an opportune moment that dovetailed with two things we shared: a wish to help language learners and a love of football. That ‘moment’ was the feast of football that was the month long World Cup in Germany.


Football seemed to be an ideal way to encourage learners who have an interest in the sport to practice their English. We decided to set up a website and provide content in the form of written posts and audio podcasts, and we have been doing this weekly ever since.


Damon Brewster - Photo

The rationale behind the site is simply that football can scaffold learning in two ways: first, if the learner is already interested in football, then they have that background knowledge to support them as they encounter the second language – they know the teams, the players, the tournaments, the rules, and so on; secondly, football is a natural narrative and its story develops each week, building on what has gone before. This last point provides added structure for the learner as they can use what they know about the ’story’ to support their learning. In football, there is a beginning, a middle and an end to the story (the season) that is full of twists and turns along the way. There are larger-than-life characters, heroes and villains, as well as lots of tension, drama, violence, sadness and joy!


The site is not aimed at a specific class, or school, but for anybody with internet access and the inclination. Of course, the digital landscape has changed since 2006, and we have tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to take advantage of various RSS feed aggregators, Facebook, and most recently Twitter.

Languagecaster.com is comprised of three main elements: podcasts and posts, static pages, and a forum.


1. Podcasts and posts

a. A listening report, complete with vocabulary support, that lasts between three and five minutes, which is published as a post and a separate podcast. The language is ungraded, but the transcript and the help with more idiomatic language should mean an intermediate learner will be able to understand most of the content.


b. A weekly football phrase: This is a one to two minute audio, again accompanied by a post, explaining an English phrase, cliche or lexical item that is used in football.


c. Predictions: Each week Damian and I try to predict the results of five or six of the big games around the world. A guest is also sometimes invited and points are awarded and recorded each week.


d. Languagecaster podcast: This is a combination of the above three posts with an introduction and becomes a 10-15 minute podcast.


e. There are worksheets available for many of the listening reports and teachers are free to download the audio files, copy the transcripts and adapt the content in any way.


2. Static pages

The site has built up a large collection of cliches and football phrases, which have been sorted into separate pages to make them easier to access. We have found that our football glossary page and cliche page are the most commonly accessed.  We also have an archive page that includes posts and podcasts that date back to 2006.


3. Forum

We recently opened a forum page as a place learners can ask questions about football language, or English in general. Visitors to the forum can also share their favourite cliches and phrases and talk about the teams they support.


2014 is another World Cup year, this time in Brazil, and we’re hoping that our site and content will provide those who want to improve their English and who love the game of football with ‘learnable’ moments and a chance to engage with English.


Damian Fitzpatrick
I was born in London but grew up in Ireland and I am a Tottenham and Ireland fan. I have been playing, watching and talking about football since I was 5 years old. When I am not thinking about football I teach English and have been doing this for the past 15 years or so. Currently I work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong


Damon Brewster
I was born and brought up near Chester in the north west of England. I have
always loved playing and talking about sport, especially football and am a Liverpool fan. I moved to Japan in 1993 and have taught English since then. Currently I work for J. F. Oberlin University, Tokyo.

Find lots of football related ELT material at http://languagecaster.com/.