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Is Spanish easier than French?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by gmjhome, May 8, 2012.

  1. I am interested in readers’ views on this subject. We teach both Spanish and French in our school and French appears to be getting squeezed out, in an otherwise very healthy MFL environment. Over the past ten years the ratio of Spanish:French GCSE groups has moved from about 3:2 to 3:1 to now about 4:1. Once a tipping point is reached, I fear subsequent momentum could simply see French disappearing. The main thing I hear from pupils is that they think Spanish is easier. How anecdotal do you think that is? Does anyone know of any hard research which shows that? Management here – and, I know, elsewhere - are promoting Spanish over French because they see better pass-rates . But how justified is this ? As a non-hispanist, can you tell me what, if anything, is actually easier about Spanish?
    I’m not ignoring the cultural factors and intermingled class issues too. Is French what we suspected but didn’t really dare admit, pretty much now as always the preserve of the middle classes? How many working class northern children ever had the pen-friend in Orléans? What is the relevance of French to their lives? In my school, despite the highest of expectations otherwise, I cannot reasonably claim to be preparing many of them for careers as diplomats. Is the French story itself now unravelling? Yes, our nearest neighbour, but always a love-hate relationship. Economic ties – no more relevant than any other European country? Sport – an uninspiring domestic football set-up with dubious international quality; rugby (union) a bit rareified; pop music – move swiftly on…!; international place in the world – trying very hard to convince everyone not just trading on past glories? Cuisine - haven't we all gone New World? Does Spanish necessarily win in a lot of these areas?
    My usual riposte against all these charges that we’re engaging in a language-learning process, and it doesn’t really matter which language, doesn’t stand up, I think, because we can’t ultimately teach for very long in a cultureless vacuum.
    Anyway, I'm interested in people’s views. Thanks.

  2. Let's not forget that French also has tenses and moods. Furthermore, in French you have the problem of words being spelt differently to how they sound. This can be very off-putting for the weakest pupils.
    If I had to get someone from knowing nothing to a good GCSE standard in three years I think I'd probably pick Spanish, but it's a close call. I cannot say whether Spanish grammar is more difficult in general, but at GCSE level there's not much difference.
  3. I haven't got the statistics to hand, but have a look at :
    - the % A* awarded in Spanish as compared to French (at GCSE and A Level)
    - the grade boundaries on the Reading and Listening papers at GCSE
    (Someone mathematically-minded will doubtless tell me that grade boundaries are irrelevant as they are adjusted by a mysterious black art to reflect the cohort....however, try telling that to pupils who are taking both languages at GCSE and can see the grade boundary differences for themselves.)
  4. henriette

    henriette New commenter

    in the early stages Spanish feels easier because it is more phonetic
    by the time you get to y9 it is equal
    by GCSE it is (in many ways ) harder
    at A level the grammar is definitely harder
  5. Geekie

    Geekie Occasional commenter

    IMHO Spanish is more accessible to beginner learners, younger learners and those with special educational needs, largely for reasons of phonics. "Un bolígrafo, dos bolígrafos" with all the letters pronounced makes more sense than "un stylo, deux stylos" with its silent letters, for example. However when you get further into Spanish, you come up against things like the imperfect subjunctive in conditional sentences, something that is more straightforward in French. I have found in the past that students have simply taken to one language better than another, they get a better feel for it. But in my experience, the GCSE papers are often harder for Spanish than for French. The reading papers in particular tend to have off-the-wall questions containing vocabulary that has never been anywhere near a syllabus list. And then of course there is the argument that for many young people Spanish is more relevant as they are more likely to go to a Spanish-speaking country than to a French-speaking one.

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