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The challenge facing MFL in the UK

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by mlapworth, Nov 4, 2010.

  1. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    http://www.all-languages.org.uk/about/all_media_centre/all_together_all_consultation_2010
    The following is a quote from the ALL consultation report available on the above link:
    "We as a body of professionals need to get together and say what we
    believe are the most effective pedagogical approaches to language
    learning, reflect on […] our own practice and then tell the exam boards
    what and how they should be assessing. We are the people we have been
    waiting for."
    (It's from Chris Harte, I believe.)
    I agree entirely.
    So, what do you think?
    How do we sort out the mess?
    What are the most effective pedagogical approaches?
    How should the exam boards be assessing MFL?
     
  2. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    http://www.all-languages.org.uk/about/all_media_centre/all_together_all_consultation_2010
    The following is a quote from the ALL consultation report available on the above link:
    "We as a body of professionals need to get together and say what we
    believe are the most effective pedagogical approaches to language
    learning, reflect on […] our own practice and then tell the exam boards
    what and how they should be assessing. We are the people we have been
    waiting for."
    (It's from Chris Harte, I believe.)
    I agree entirely.
    So, what do you think?
    How do we sort out the mess?
    What are the most effective pedagogical approaches?
    How should the exam boards be assessing MFL?
     
  3. Well the revised GCSE will put lots of linguists off doing A-level.
    It is as dull as dishwater with no coherence. A trained monkey could do it
    Oh and the absence of transactional language and roleplays is going to do wonders ... how will anyone buy a train ticket when the arrive in Paris?????
     
  4. ...and if the GCSE has not turned them completely off, the A Level surely will!
     
  5. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    I rather like A-level. AQA did a lot of work asking teachers what they wanted at A-level. Not so sure about GCSE, though I don't favour too much transactional language. Dull. Not very transferable knowledge.
    That said, I think you have a good point, Martin. Whilst we are at a pretty eclectic point in the history of language teaching methodology, there is surely some room for a bit of clarity of purpose.I'm not sure new trainess are getting enough theory on second language learning to begin with.
    I wrote a couple of essays on this sort of thing which are on the frenchteacher web site. A few basic principles might include:
    - a fair amount of TL is needed to activate natural acquisition. Too much is off-putting in a school context.
    - grammatical explanation is important
    - vocab acquisition is important, using a variety of means including rote memory work
    - a range of skills are needed. Writing is least important, but necessary to aid other skills and to make classromms manageable!
    - selction and grading of language is important
    - drilling is useful for embedding structures and vocab . It probably assists natural acquisition too
    - some translation is fine
    - plenty of structured listening tasks are good
    - interesting content is useful
    - assessment should resemble what we do in the classroom
    - encouraging contact with native speakers through exchanges, letters, email, social networking is good
    - there is no panacea method and children learn differently
    - regular contact, little and ofetn, daily is best.
     
  6. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    That's really useful Steve. An eclectic mix of what works, rather than an emphasis on a particular ideology.
    However, there is part of me that recognises that a lot of teachers are doing all of this stuff, and yet we find ourselves in the situation we are in currently.
    Some would argue that the way we teach is all wrong. In the US TPRS is big in FL teaching. In the UK, a lot of schools are seeing great progress using methods such as the Michel Thomas method (as adapted for use in schools by Paul Howard).
    Or maybe the root of the problem is not what we teach, or how we teach it, but rather how we assess. The NC levels aren't doing us any favours at all, forcing teachers to focus on statements which do not represent real progression in FL learning. And the GCSEs are just awful - the new ones make teaching to the test (with memorisation without understanding of whole texts and preprepared responses to oral questions etc.) even more likely.
     
  7. dalej

    dalej New commenter

  8. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Thanks for that link, Joe. We shall see what emerges, but I shall not hold my breath!
    Like you, Martin, I am not happy with GCSE assessment. How did we get to the point where at AS/A2 level it's alright to do mixed skill testing, but not at GCSE? Why are we still fixated on testing the four skills separately at GCSE?
    Like Graham I think time allocation for languages is inadequate. In terms of methodology I am concerned that the new framework and PLTS has led some teachers to forget that with the limited time we have we cannot spend much of it in activities like watching films which are way too difficult linguistically, doing independent enquiry activities which may be interesting but do not promote structured language acquisition and doing cross-curricular activities which, again, deflect us from our primary task: teaching and practising vocab and structures.
    If we do not do the latter we will not see students progress as they should.
    The new controlled assessments at GCSE are atrocious. They fail one of the primary roles of good assessment: reliability.
    There is no crisis in grammar schools and many independents. Students continue to do languages and achieve highly. Ditto for higher sets in comps. The social divide in language learning is a worry.
     
  9. I was just thinking that when I got my weekly job alerts email and noticed how many of them were at private and grammar schools.
     
  10. I am a partner in a software development and retailing business that specialises in MFL software for secondary schools. Our software sales figures clearly indicate that over the last five years it is almost exclusively independent schools, grammar schools and language colleges that have bought software for teaching modern foreign languages. I wonder to what extent this trend applies to other MFL teaching materials.
    Yes, Steve, the social divide is a worry. We are back in the situation that prevailed when I was at secondary school in the 1950s.
    Graham Davies
     
  11. GroovyGuzi "We are back in the situation that prevailed when I was at secondary school in the 1950s."
    My God, Graham, what a thing to have to say.
    See from Wiki you were at Ealing in the old days. For MFL that says it all. How are we so bad? None of the excuses works. A visiting French colleague many years ago asked "How can it be your teaching is so hopeless here that in five years you get such abysmal results at O-level and then in two you get them through A-level?"
    My wife qualified in an Eastern EU state, where most teachers have some communicative competence in a FL and she has subsid French in her degree, and then became an Inspector. Now (with QTS) she's working as a TA and, though she enjoys it, is appalled to find that it's common practice for TAs to be set to do what only qualified teachers would be allowed to do back home (inc Primary FL on the basis of very sketchy knowledge), and that she can spot elementary mistakes in what even teachers write on the board. Where are we going?
     
  12. I was a lecturer in German at Ealing College from 1971 to 1993. We had some really good students in the 1970s who went on to get jobs as professional translators and interpreters in the European Commission or who used their languages for practical purposes in many other ways. The rot began to set in in the 1980s. It became difficult to recruit students with good qualifications and we therefore began teaching German and Spanish ab initio. By the early 1990s things had got a lot worse. Students with GCSEs and even A-Levels were admitted onto our degree courses, but they proved to have a very poor range of vocab and there were enormous holes in their knowledge of grammar. As Director of the Language Centre there was more and more pressure on me to make technological aids (ICT, language labs, videos, satellite TV) available to such students in order to get them up to scratch. In the end I just gave up and took early retirement in 1993. Not long after that all the language departments were closed. Anyone who denies that standards have declined is talking rubbish.
    Graham Davies
     
  13. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    Trouble is, MFL teachers are so busy running themselves ragged trying to implement unworkable assessment systems - such as NC sub-levelling every piece of work or every couple of weeks, and the ludicrously laborious CA procedures - that they haven't got time to even think about thinking about solutions to the many problems facing MFL teaching...
     
  14. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    Trouble is, getting on with the job at hand and leaving it to "those in authority" to sort things out hasn't had particularly good results so far...
     
  15. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

    I'm just rather tired of hearing that things were so much better 50 years ago. I have no way of knowing, of course - I was born in the 80s. Of course things are bad, and new policies and budget cuts certainly don't help, but rather than pining for the old ways, why not look for inspiration around us? The only speaking I ever did in lessons when I was at school was in a language lab, recording myself talking and listening to it over and over again, or learning by heart an unlikely scenario of Liselotte and Hans who went Pilze sammeln, during which Liselotte broke her leg. Things have come a long way, and for all the faults of modern-day language teaching, lessons have definitely become more engaging and more in touch with the real world. Perhaps my students are not as knowledgeable in the past subjunctive as they may have been 40 years ago, but then again I never seem to use the past subjunctive in conversation these days...
     
  16. curlyk

    curlyk New commenter

    You are right Noemie,
    there has never been a Golden Age of language teaching and lots of great things are going on now. The trouble is, nowadays ,decisions on language teaching/learning/assessment are being made from on high, perhaps they always were ,but this latest lot of initiatives seem more dangerous The teachers of this country are not asked to help formulate policies which severely impact our students. The latest GCSEs were rushed through and the Examination Boards are still thinking on their feet and changing the goal posts as we speak. I have taught for 30 years and have worked through innumerable exam initiatives, seen new approaches proposed and relegated to the dustbin and teachers put through the wringer. Language teachers are a particularly hard working and thoughtful bunch ,who share resources and will usually try out all new gadgets,course books ,schemes of work,,ICT advances .etc. and feedback their thoughts to colleagues.. You only have to look at this site for evidence. I think we just have to pick the bits that work for us and our students, fight the ludricous bits,like showing progress every 20 minutes and wait for the next installment of being in the soap opera of being a language teacher, to come along. The more things change ,...................!
     
  17. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    I'm certainly not "pining for the old ways". I'm looking for something new, rather than a return to the past. But I think that MFL in the UK is in a mess. And if all we do is try to look for positives / inspiration in what's going on around us, rather than address the issues, we're not going to change anything. Decisions about assessment and examinations in MFL are of vital importance to how teachers then go about the business of teaching. If we don't change the assessment and examination system, we're not going to change anything.
    I refer you back to the start of this thread, and the quote from Chris Harte, with which I completely agree:
    "We as a body of professionals need to get together and say what we
    believe are the most effective pedagogical approaches to language
    learning, reflect on […] our own practice and then tell the exam boards
    what and how they should be assessing. We are the people we have been
    waiting for."
     
  18. I wouldn't go back 100% to the old ways either. I was at secondary school from 1953 to 1961. The main teaching approach was grammar-translation, but we had an enlightened French teacher who spoke French most of the time in class. The positive aspects of those days, however, were:
    (1) The amount of class-contact time we had: 40 minutes of French every day, five days a week for five years - a total of around 600 hours. Everyone studied French. German could be added on in Year 8 or Year 9 - with a higher weekly quota of class-contact hours.
    (2) French and German foreign language assistants who took us for conversation classes for one lesson per week - from Year 9, if I remember correctly.
    (3) The opportunity to go on a school exchange visit to France or Germany every year. I went on an exchange visit to Germany in 1958. My German exchange partner stayed with our family for 3 weeks and then I went over to Germany and stayed with his family for three weeks.
    I taught in secondary education from 1965 to 1971. The positive things that I remember were:
    (1) No National Curriculum, no directives from above on the way that I should teach. I did my own thing, and as long as I got good O- and A-Level results I was left in peace.
    (2) No OFSTED. We had advisers, who helped us over the hurdles in our first year or two of teaching. My adviser was the late, great Ted Wragg. He used to sit in on my classes and then give me friendly and constructive advice over a cup of tea in the classroom.
    (3) French and German foreign language assistants who took my pupils for conversation classes for one lesson per week - from Year 9, if I remember correctly.
    (4) The opportunity to go on a school exchange visit to France or Germany every year. I took a group on an exchange visit to Germany in 1970. The head in one school in which I taught was very keen on this. In the year after I left his school he set up a scheme whereby the whole of Year 10 went abroad for the whole of the summer term: 4 classes of 25-30 pupils each. Two groups went to France, one group went to Germany and one group went to Denmark. They were "replaced" by four groups from those countries.
    (5) In the grammar school in which I taught from 1968 to 1971 languages were compulsory from Year 7 to 11. Every pupil studied at least one foreign language. They were offered a choice of French or German when they entered the school. Three-quarters chose French. Around 40 pupils each year picked up a second language in Year 9: German or Spanish, divided roughly 50-50.
    (6) The amount of class-contact time we had was roughly the same as when I was at school in the 1950s.
    I think the rot began to set in in the 1980s, actually before the National Curriculum was introduced. I taught in HE from 1971 to 1993. By the early 1980s we had to teach German and Spanish ab initio as the supply of students with O-Levels and A-Levels had begun to dry up.
    Regards
    Graham

     
  19. An increasingly important factor, I feel, is the global predominance of English. It has been said that if anything the situation is getting worse (or better, depending on which way you look at it!) and that the position of English as a world language is getting stronger all the time. Even the French have given in, apparently. I heard that at the signing of the recent treaty between us and France all the documents were in English! And although we often look to the continent for examples of positive atitudes to language learning, you'll probably find that they're not studying many languages other than English.
     
  20. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

    I beg to differ. Most European teenagers are fluent in at least one more language than English. As a Swiss citizen English was the third foreign language I learned, after the other two national languages. In France, I've read (although I haven't been able to check it out) that German overtook English in terms of popularity with teenagers because of the German band Tokio Hotel. I'm not really sure where you get your information from but I'm pretty sure it's grossly inaccurate. Anyone else care to comment?
     

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