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GCSE languages “too hard”

(53 Posts)
watermeadow Sat 11-May-19 18:37:39

I was no good at French and just scraped through O level. Forty years later I still knew far more than my daughters who were doing GCSEs. They learned useful phrases like how to get to the station but I had learned four tenses and enough vocabulary to read a book in French.
My grandchildren learned a few words in French and Spanish but took no exams.
Modern languages are now “too hard” and few children are being taught them, let alone Latin which I also had to study. I know a student who got into Oxford without any language at all.
I suppose it’s outdated to consider that a good education should include languages (plus art and music)

KatyK Sat 11-May-19 18:45:47

My DGD is studying modern languages at uni.

KatyK Sat 11-May-19 18:46:56

Should have said, she got A Level French and Spanish. She loves languages.

GrandmaKT Sat 11-May-19 18:46:57

Imo the reasons for the decline in language teaching are wrapped up with the decline in discipline.
In order to learn a language properly, you HAVE to put the time in and learn vocabulary, tenses etc. I'm not going to lie, I hated doing it, but was so scared of our French teacher and the repercussions of not doing it, (detentions, being shouted at in front of the class,being made to look stupid), that I did it.
For better or worse, teachers just don't have the power nowadays to insist that the learning is done. There are very few children who will put the required effort in by themselves.

Witzend Sat 11-May-19 18:56:43

Yes, they're definitely easier than O level. And yet it's said now and then that schoolchildren should be learning Chinese! If they can't even cope with French, German or Spanish, how on earth would they ever manage Mandarin?

Of course it depends on what you're good at, but I'd always have preferred a language over, say, physics, any day! To me, that'd be the hard option. In fact I dropped physics-with-chemistry (the relief!) just one year before O level, since Russian was a new option instead. About ten of us had just one year to do Russian O level - though we had to make a start on our own during the preceding summer holidays.

MawBroonsback Sat 11-May-19 19:07:31


Nannylovesshopping Sat 11-May-19 19:12:53

How rude

silverlining48 Sat 11-May-19 19:32:16

Well after googling ( just out of interest, or ignorance, you understand ) I have learned a new rude word, adding to the only other rude french one i knew, might come in useful one day. Thanks for the heads up nannielovesshopping.

MawBroonsback Sat 11-May-19 19:33:53

Who says languages have no relevance today?

MawBroonsback Sat 11-May-19 19:38:10

Im not going to lie, I hated doing it, but was so scared of our French teacher and the repercussions of not doing it, (detentions, being shouted at in front of the class,being made to look stupid)

Doesn’t say much about the style or standard of teaching you endured.
Fear, being shouted at, humiliation, - none of these should have any place in education. at any level.

MawBroonsback Sat 11-May-19 19:41:17

My comment - to which you have taken such exception was merely a response to the thread title.
Bo*****s, in other words.

Witzend Sat 11-May-19 19:55:55

Not sure it has quite the same satisfying force as 'Bollocks!' though!

To be entirely fair, I think it's a lot harder for native speakers of English to practise whatever language skills they have, since almost wherever you go overseas, people will be wanting to practise their English. It's a whole different thing if your mother tongue is (say) Dutch, or Swedish, or Japanese. Then, if you want to travel or do business overseas, you just have to learn, and unlike for us, there's no dithering about which language to choose.

I know how many years ago a dd (who eventually did a language degree) remarked after a visit to Hamburg, how there was so much English everywhere - subtitled TV etc. - people were bombarded with it from an early age.

My dh was based for quite a while in Jakarta, and did manage to learn quite a bit of Bahasa Indonesian. However, when I once joined him for a holiday, we went to a fairly remote part of Sulawesi, where the hotel was nearly empty - and he hardly got a chance to use it. The young barman in particular was very keen to practise his English and talk about football - and dh has barely a clue about it!
Just one example, but I could quote many more.
And as a family we are far from hopeless at languages.

Tangerine Sat 11-May-19 20:00:23

I always enjoyed learning French and German and have found it really useful, both at work and on holiday.

I suppose people taking subjects for GCSE are going to choose subjects in which they feel confident about securing a good grade. If they don't feel confident about learning a language well enough, they won't wish to choose it.

grannyticktock Sat 11-May-19 20:32:22

I love languages and attempted to teach them for a while, although the discipline was a struggle for me. It's sad that so few young people seem to enjoy learning a language now. It amuses me when it's suggested that other languages have somehow "got harder" in a generation or two. I wonder if the French, the Germans etc have noticed how hard their languages have become?! And I don't believe for a moment that the syllabus now is any more challenging than the old O-levels or A-levels were. It must be that modern teaching styles and study habits are less able to cope with a language.

SueDonim Sat 11-May-19 20:44:31

Apparently, taking Modern Languages is giving children mental health issues. If only we could all go through life avoiding the things we don't like! hmm

Cold Sat 11-May-19 20:46:06

Language exams seem to have a general low status in the UK.

I was surprised when my children did GCSE-equivalent in Sweden that 2 foreign languages are compulsory unless there is a learning disability. Everyone has to do English and one other language - at my DDs school there was a choice of French, German or Spanish.

Then at A level you continued with your languages and some even started a new language (DD1 started with Japanese)

absent Sun 12-May-19 06:51:18

When I was a girl my school expected us all to include specific subjects in our GCEs, plus our specialisations: English language, English literature, maths, one science, one foreign language and one choice from history or geography. The foreign language was usually French because we started that in the Lower Fourth, but it might also be German, Italian, Spanish or even, at a pinch, Latin all of which we started a little bit later. Another language introduced us to another view of life –and a deeper understanding of language, our own and others – and I think that was valuable. It also helped us realise that the UK was not the centre of the world and learn a bit about Europe (in those days). Obviously the picture is even more interesting with some young people learning Mandarin and/or Japanese.

I have a natural affinity for learning languages, inherited from my father who was a phenomenal linguist. Other languages came easily to me – French, German, Spanish, Italian and, more recently, Te Reo – but I still had to work very hard to speak, write and read them fluently. For some, learning a foreign language is difficult and uninteresting but it is very wrong to suggest that it is hard and uninteresting for all children. They have no idea until they try.

BlueBelle Sun 12-May-19 08:58:25

I ve no idea about languages but the maths o level bares no resemblance to today’s maths I can’t do any of my gran kids maths but did the o level ok

annodomini Sun 12-May-19 09:08:22

My younger DGD is taking GCSE French this month and her brother will be taking German in a year's time. Their parents are good linguists so I think they have the ability in their genes. However, their cousin, now in Y9, now does no languages which I think is very sad - his dad (DS2) is a good linguist and picks up languages the way other people pick up souvenirs. Yes. I do think languages should be compulsory to GCSE level, though if the numbers taking languages to degree level keep on dropping off, there will be no teachers available.

Fennel Sun 12-May-19 09:09:10

I was talking to a Maths teacher last week and she said the courses are more difficult now. They're asked to explain step by step in a long calculation instead of just giving the answer.
Maybe because they're used to using a calculator.
We had something called log. books.
As for languages, that was one of my best subjects, but as someone said above most european countries have incorporated many english words into their vocabulary.

Grandma70s Sun 12-May-19 09:20:21

When my children did GCSE French I was shocked by how easy it was compared to my O-level. It was phrase book French, with no proper translations to do and virtually no knowledge of grammar needed. They both got high grades, but neither really knows any French. A certain amount of rote learning is necessary to learn any foreign language, and that had become unfashionable by the time they were at school.

My parents were both French graduates, and bilingual. My father spoke fairly fluent German as well. I did French and German to A-level, though I admit I found the German literature difficult. My accent is good in both, but I’m very far from my parents’ standard.

In other words, over three generations in our family the ability to speak a foreign language has deteriorated enormously. I think such skills are valued less and less, as English, largely in its American form, has become so widely spoken and understood. Pity.

Mamie Sun 12-May-19 09:27:13

I wonder how many people posting have actually looked at the requirements for the current MFL GCSE?
I did French to A level, live in France and am a pretty fluent French speaker. I worked in education for 30 years, including MFL.
My eldest granddaughter is currently doing her GCSE.
I can assure you that the current syllabus is much harder than anything we did at O level. The subject matter ranges from the everyday to the distinctly erudite. Last week for the oral exam we were working (yes I have been helping her prepare) on how to use five tenses clearly in spoken French and a range of connectives (amongst other things).
These are the three themes used by one of the boards.
Theme 1: Identity and culture
Theme 2: Local, national, international and global areas of interest.
Theme 3: Current and future study and employment.

The exams are harder, as the Guardian article said some of the vocabulary is extremely obscure and there is a massive shortage of MFL teachers.
I think our grandchildren and their teachers deserve all the support we can give them.

Mamie Sun 12-May-19 09:32:21

The grammar requirements are here. DGD is doing the higher level.

Mamie Sun 12-May-19 09:46:34

Apologies for multiple posts, but have just realised nobody had posted the original article?

Jane10 Sun 12-May-19 09:56:51

We had to do French from the age of 6. There was an educational vogue to do this at the time. It worked OK. I could read, speak and think in French when I left school. We had rather dull teaching of basics, grammar etc and nice older French ladies who came in to chat to us for conversation practice. Very old fashioned but it worked.
Latin was boring and a struggle but I'm glad I did it. It's really helped in later life in understanding where words have come from. Mind you I never was much good at 'declining'!
Young people today, put down your phones, concentrate, and get on with it!!