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MFL valued?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by gsglover, Aug 26, 2012.

  1. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    There was an interview yesterday on the Today programme on Radio 4 with the German ambassador, Dr Peter Ammon (above). He was asked about the decline in numbers of British students learning German and he responded that he was saddened by the decline in the study of any foreign language in the UK. He added, however, on an upbeat note that a group of German teachers had recently met at the embassy, leaving with the message that learning a foreign language represents "an act of friendship, an outstretched hand" to other nations. That positive image raised my spirits in these negative times.
  2. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Says it all really. Low expectations lead to low results. This thread really just goes round and round in circles.
  3. Schifoan

    Schifoan New commenter

    I wonder if we’re making MFL ever less attractive with the rush to promote Spanish at the expense of German and others. Less choice for those for whom it just does not appeal. When I was at school, we had compulsory French but then could pick from German, Spanish and Russian. It’s a shame that such a wide variety is not more readily available.
    Dodros likes this.
  4. Eirianedd

    Eirianedd New commenter

    Why should French be the compulsory language of choice?
    Landofla likes this.
  5. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Why not. You could make an argument for any of the European languages to be compulsory. I think the crazy thing is the kids are taught one language to start but then another is added a couple of years later. So we teach two languages badly when it is barely possible to teach one language to a fairly high standard. Perhaps it would be better to get a system where kids can get the principles of languages and language learning so when they have to learn or want to learn a language in the future they can do it in the most efficient way posible .
    Schifoan likes this.
  6. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    French has been the traditional first foreign language for decades, most MFL A-level entries are consequently in French and this has resulted in a steady supply of French teachers in schools over the years. Other languages such as German, Spanish, Russian and Chinese are less commonly taught and heads probably think that it is easier to replace a French teacher than a teacher of other languages, so they play safe when it comes to the range of languages offered within their schools. During the 1990s, the idea of diversifying the first foreign language gained currency and my own school had half of Year 7 starting French, while the other half began German. Students who wanted to could opt for the other language a couple of years later. This dual language system operated for a few years but it was eventually discontinued because it had repercussions for setting in other subjects from Year 8 onwards.

    As for the organisation of first and second foreign language provision in secondary education, with the first language beginning in the first secondary year and the second in the third secondary year, such a system is found throughout Europe and appears to operate without too much difficulty. In the 1960s, I began French and Latin in the equivalent of Year 7 and German in the equivalent of Year 10 and my only grumble was the late start in German, leading to an overachievement of an "A" at O-level and an underachievement of a "D" at A-level. While I've always enjoyed German more than French, I've often felt that my lesser exposure to the language maded me less proficient in it and when I started teaching, I successfully did a Masters in German to convince myself that my German was at least as good as my French.

    There are two more factors that may have a positive impact on the development of MFL in secondary schools here in England. One is the decision to introduce a foreign language into the primary school curriculum, an initiative that reflects what is happening elsewhere in Europe. Catching foreign language learners early means that pronunciation in the target language may be better because the younger children are, the easier they will find it is to pick up a decent accent. Younger starters are also less likely to harbour the prejudices and fear of failure of older students, so there may be less resistance to learning. A second factor is that I don't believe all MFL teachers are a cynical lot of "workers-to-rule". The MFL department in my old school has moved over to two language offerings, French and Spanish, despite the fact that many of its members first qualified in French and German. Those with such credentials took courses in their spare time and obtained qualifications in Spanish that gave them the subject knowledge and the confidence to teach the language in key stage 3. I would have done the same if I'd been younger and not near retirement age. Never underestimate the determination and versatility of MFL graduates to retrain in other languages when they see the way the wind is blowing.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2017
    Schifoan likes this.
  7. Eirianedd

    Eirianedd New commenter

    I can think of a dozen obvious reasons, not least the fact that the UK will probably leave the EU and South America is a huge potential market. Would it not be wise, therefore, to prepare pupils for opportunities in that area, then?

    So where are you going to "get" this system? Can you get one mail order, through a catalogue, or are they lurking in special limited boxes of Cornflakes for us to win? Let me know.
  8. Eirianedd

    Eirianedd New commenter

    Really? Words fail me!
  9. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    Really? Words must fail you easily. There are typos everywhere on TES fora, mainly because the 8-minute limit to editing messages soon runs out, which is what happened in this instance. As I'm a martyr to dystypia, it's a miracle you haven't found any more. Consider focusing on the content of people's messages rather than on their occasional keyboard slips.
    emartinez_1971, Landofla and minka1 like this.
  10. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    Why don't you list all your reasons, Eirianedd, which may be obvious to you but not necessarily so to others? :)

    For many years, although provision may be slowly changing now, French and German have been the more commonly taught languages in British schools, not least because English itself is a Germanic language with a very large French-derived vocabulary within it, thanks to the Norman Conquest and the history of French as a language of diplomacy and culture. A knowledge of French and German provides unique insights into the structure and development of our own language.

    If economic utilitarianism is the principal argument for choice of foreign language, why not focus on Chinese, which is the language of the country that is threatening to overtake the USA as the world's leading economy?
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2017
    minka1, Schifoan and Eirianedd like this.
  11. Eirianedd

    Eirianedd New commenter

    You are quite right. I apologise. I should not expect attention to detail and high standards from teachers.
  12. Eirianedd

    Eirianedd New commenter

    I could list all the reasons, however you have done an admirable job of arguing the case yourself so I will continue to regard the reasons as obvious and needing no further explanation. I think dropping French and teaching Chinese would be an excellent idea!
  13. ojala

    ojala New commenter

    Hello Picky Pickerson. I assume from your comments to the venerable Dodros that you have never ever ever made any tiny mistakes yourself.
    Dodros likes this.
  14. Schifoan

    Schifoan New commenter

    I’m starting a PGCE via German in September, but French has tended to be my stronger language and I will be teaching that too.

    Dodros does a great job in setting out the reasons for keeping French as the first language, and I thoroughly agree.

    I would add that French is a wonderful choice for introducing the concepts of subjects, objects and indirect objects, conjugation, and grammatical gender. I found these foundations to be very useful, and to make my life easier, when I took German later and needed these ideas in place to understand the case system. There are plenty of other languages where this gentle introduction beforehand would help.

    After French is where I would introduce expanded choice if it were possible. German, Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin are the obvious choices to me. Maybe Italian, Polish and Dutch if necessary, or maybe a Scandinavian language. A pipe dream for now, sadly.
    Dodros likes this.
  15. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    Please read what I actually wrote:

    If economic utilitarianism is the principal argument for choice of foreign language, why not focus on Chinese, which is the language of the country that is threatening to overtake the USA as the world's leading economy?

    Please note the use of the conjunction "if", not "because". Economic utilitarianism, as others have indicated as well, is only one of several criteria under consideration when selecting a foreign language in schools.
  16. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Are you really not aware of the many lists provided in most books about mfl teaching of techniques to help and speed up the process of learning a new language. Most of the people on here are aware of other people's arguments whether they agree with them or not. Replying with wit on these forums is to be valued but your reply to me came out as sarcasm that did not serve to further the conversation .
    Dodros likes this.
  17. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

  18. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    I agree. Good to see Dundonian school achievers in modern foreign languages being rewarded for the demonstration of their target-language communication skills. Also raises the profile of modern foreign language learning in a city geographically distant from continental Europe.
    minka1 likes this.
  19. toadman

    toadman Occasional commenter

    All self-perpetuating. Unless the first language taught changes, there will never be enough teachers of that language. French is still number 1 for that reason I suspect- as a French teacher it doesn't worry me, but I can understand the disgruntled teachers of other languages.
    vacherin likes this.
  20. gsglover

    gsglover Occasional commenter

    Nearly five years on from starting this thread, perhaps MFL have never been less valued than they currently are.
    I would like to think that the new specs offer some way forward but who knows? Much depends on one's headteacher and senior staff in terms of support or otherwise for MFL
    vacherin likes this.

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