Poor Little Snowflakes – Modern Language GCSEs Are Too Hard For Them

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Today’s particularly idiot complaint is that modern language GCSEs are too hard for the current snowflake generation. Well of course modern languages are hard you fools. It takes us 14 years to learn our native language to the level we start to study GCSEs in it so what the hell makes anyone think the same can be achieved in two hours a week for two years?

Cretins.

But of course matters are worse than this, for the people complaining are also insisting that everyone else in the university system – actually, including themselves – are idiots. Given modern universities this may well be true but it’s still an odd thing to be claiming in a letter to The Guardian.

The education secretary is right that exams are “inherently stressful” – but for students taking a modern foreign language (MFL), the stress is disproportionate. They will have to sit excessively difficult exams and accept that their grade may well end up lower than their performance deserves. In a recent BBC survey, 76% of English schools reported that the perception of languages as “difficult” was the main reason behind the drop in pupils studying for MFL exams. Where’s the incentive to choose a language if you’re systematically made to feel rubbish at it?

But this problem is so easily solved. Those who work in universities just go “Ah, yes, modern languages exams are hard. A B in French is like an A in history therefore” and we’re done.

Prof Katrin Kohl Professor of German, University of Oxford
Prof Claire Gorrara Professor of French studies, Cardiff University, and chair of the University Council of Modern Languages
Renata Albuquerque Widening participation manager (languages & community), Soas University of London
Prof Seán Allan Head of the School of Modern Languages, University of St Andrews
Dr Inma Alvarez Doctorate in education programme leader, The Open University
Beatriz Arias Neira Language tutor in Spanish, University of Bristol
Dr Rocio Baños-Piñero Associate professor in translation, UCL
Dr. Catarina Barceló Fouto Lecturer in Portuguese studies, King’s College London

This is apparently too difficult a thought for these and the rest of the 152 academics to grasp.

Is the marking tougher?
Evidence that it is hard to get a good mark in French, German and Spanish GCSEs is well documented. On average, pupils get half a grade lower than in other Ebacc subjects. The introduction of new language GCSEs in 2018 appears to have made matters worse, with pupils getting up to a whole grade lower in their language GCSE than geography or history. For example, pupils who get a 6 in history would only get a 5 in French.

And?

In schools in England over the past 15 years, entries for language GCSEs have dropped by 48%, with German down 65% and French down 62%. The drop accelerated after 2004, when languages were made non-compulsory subjects at GCSE.

Well, consider this. The world speaks English, there’s no need for us to learn other languages. Therefore, being rational beings, we don’t. And for when we need actual translators and interpreters there are always the native language speakers who are floating around the country. Or those rarities – like my cousin – who are actually good at other languages. To the point that the ICC uses him to interpret in and out of languages he’s not even native in. Oddities but they exist.

For everyone else why make the damned effort?

French A-level entries in England have plummeted from 15,000 to 8,000 in a decade, German entries are now under 3,000, and university languages departments are struggling or closed.

Ahhh, there’s the reason. Our 152 academics are employed in university language departments. Schoolchildren must learn languages in order to provide employment to the people who teach languages to schoolchildren. To be honest it’s possible to think up better reasons for the allocation of scarce resources than that, even to insist that this is a bad justification.

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Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

I learned Japanese at university so I could chat up the cute female Japanese students. What better incentive is needed?

Leo Savantt
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Leo Savantt

One of the reasons pupils have difficulty in learning a MFL is the way English is taught. Not having a decent grounding in grammar and not being taught the grammatical structures of English makes it much harder to understand any language. The abilities of university entrants to read relatively simple books in English are often poor, that pupils have difficulty with non-native tongues is hardly surprising. It was the Blair government that removed the requirement to teach a foreign language, under pressure from the teaching unions. It’s the teachers that find MFL and in many cases English hard, not necessarily… Read more »

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

“Not having a decent grounding in grammar and not being taught the grammatical structures of English”

This always puzzles me whenever it comes up. I was taught basic English grammar and structure in my perfectly ordinary bog standard state sector primary school in the mid-1970s.

Leo Savantt
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Leo Savantt

You wouldn’t be nowadays. Presumably you also studied French, or perhaps German. Things have changed greatly since the 70s.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

English teachers have themselves been taught that there are no such things as rules of grammar, just popular modes of speech that can change like the weather. The important thing is not to write correct English, but to be ‘authentic’. And so we get abominations such as “I could of danced all night”, a construction that would be impossible for someone who had learned English as a foreign language, because that would have required a rudimentary understanding of the difference between a verb and preposition.

Leo Savantt
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Leo Savantt

Sadly you are correct. This generation of teachers were themselves not taught.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

And the key is being taught correctly. The dyslexia pandemic that we observe today may be the result of a previously undiagnosed brain condition, but my money’s on the introduction of the Initial Teaching Alphabet, which left a whole generation unable to spell.

Pat
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Pat

One question occurs to me. What is the point in learning a foreign language unless a level of proficiency that enables communication is both achieved and maintained? In a GCSE course alone that standard is unlikely to be reached, and it is very unlikely that sufficient practise will be possible to maintain it. The more so as these days as soon as people abroad hear my accent they want to practise their English. Hence I would suggest that foreign languages at GCSE are only useful as a stepping stone for those intending further study, a tiny minority. And those wishing… Read more »

Climan
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Climan

The same question applies to much of school education, such as solving quadratic equations, the meaning of pH and the names of Kings of England. A better system would be to teach people HOW to learn, and to cover more practical things such as how to cook, and change a light bulb.

BUT, if you give the academic teaching establishment the chance to start from scratch, lord knows what ghastliness would result.

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

School teaching should always teach slightly more than is thought to be “needed” to give the opportunity to see over the wall to something that might catch their interest.

Tristram Fuller
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Tristram Fuller

How about making the other exams harder to make it more equitable?