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The teaching of MFL

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by gscarratt, Jan 20, 2010.

  1. <font face="Times New Roman">Having recently retired after teaching modern languages for more than forty years, I still reflect on the changes which have faced teachers of our subjects.</font><font face="Times New Roman"> </font><font face="Times New Roman">In my early days, teaching focussed on the written, rather than the spoken, word, and I soon came to realize that at that time teaching methods were determined by the examination boards. I do not recall having had access to a syllabus: we taught what was tested in the O Level exam. For those who yearn for the golden days of GCE, I remember, as an examiner for the JMB, how candidates would score no marks for the prose translation, despite their work being more than 50% correct: the mark scheme was punitive, and weaknesses in verb and tense formation were severely punished.</font>
  2. Frankly, I agree with you.
  3. Geekie

    Geekie Occasional commenter

    Frankly, I can't face reading the strange size fonts without my glasses on [​IMG]
  4. parkykeeper

    parkykeeper New commenter

    Well said G! But were these really the good old days? As a teenager in the 70s I don't recall the glory days of prose and translation or being adequately prepared for the picture essay or the 80 questions in the oral test. I also no concept of grammar so not surprisingly I failed O level French but I did get a CSE Grade 1, and was "allowed" (rather reluctantly) by the head of department at the 6th form college to study A Level.I had the humiliation of starting A Level French and getting 0/60 in dictation! However, I went on to become one of the best students in my year at University. Where was the quality teaching? Certainly not in my secondary school!

  5. I loved French and was very good at it - but I remember being slightly daunted on our first family trip to France - in 1971 after I had just been doing French for a few months - when I realised that I could pretty much only speak in the third person - because all our little slide shows of Marie France/Claudette/Jean-Paul and Bruno le chien were narrated in the third person. (echoes of Eddie Izzard's "le singe est dans l'arbre"
  6. How sad that you have to respond to a serious discussion in such a flippant and dismissive manner. Get a life, Geekie!
  7. Geekie

    Geekie Occasional commenter

    I already have a very nice life, thank you MaveBrown. One person's flippant and dismissive, another's light-hearted comment. I still find the OP very difficult to read due to the fonts and the lack of paragraphs. I will go to the remedial class and not collect &pound;200.[​IMG]
    (Apologies if that was flippant and dismissive)
  8. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    From an international business point of view, what is needed are people with a good command of grammar, a wide vocabulary and decent pronunciation in an MFL.
    To achieve that we need to be able to prevent potentially good linguists from dropping MFL after KS3.
    One way to ensure that they carry on to at least GCSE level is for universities to make a GCSE in MFL compulsory for all or most of their degree courses. We would then have enough GCSE candidates to introduce setting again and the higher set/s could have in-depth grammar tuition. They could learn the whole verb, for example, instead of concentrating mainly on the first person singular.

  9. I was trained at Goldsmiths&rsquo; College in 1964-65, and I taught in secondary education up until 1971. The main differences between that era and now is that (a) foreign languages had a decent allocation of hours on the timetable and (b) an O-Level in a foreign language was a university entrance requirement. There was no National Curriculum. I taught what I thought the students needed to know to pass their examinations &ndash; and with a fair degree of success.
    When I was a student at secondary school, 1953-1961, we had one 40-minute lesson of French for five days per week for five years from Year 7 to Year 11 &ndash; which works out at around 600 class-contact hours to get us up to O-Level standard. Does any school offer that number of class-contact hours now? Most don&rsquo;t even offer the Council of Europe&rsquo;s recommended 350-400 hours - which, incidentally, is what the DCSF&rsquo;s Languages Ladder also implicitly recommends as the number of guided learning hours to get a learner from scratch up to Level B1 (= Higher GCSE). The O-Level exam in those days was tough &ndash; here are the French and German papers that I sat, and passed:
    Although the emphasis in those days was on grammar and translation, what I learned was a solid foundation for communication. Immediately after sitting my O-Level exams I went on a three-week exchange visit to Germany. Initially I was tongue-tied and I could hardly understand a word of the conversation round the dining table of the family in whose house I was staying. But after the first week everything began to fall into place. By the end of the third week my confidence and my listening and speaking skills had improved 300%. I knew how to construct accurate and quite complex sentences on paper before I went to Germany, and I could understand written German. I just needed more practice in transferring these skills to speaking and listening.
    On the whole, I agree with the OP.
  10. I do agree 150% with this article. I'm an NQT trained to teach Spanish and French and I ask myself why on earth I left my job to undertake a PGCE and didn't even get a job at the end of it. Spanish is my first language. A number of Spanish speakers I know have left the UK unhappy about the situation of languages in this country.
  11. yasf

    yasf Established commenter

  12. Random175

    Random175 New commenter

    Interesting OP. I largely agree. Just one point seems contradictory. You claim that the controlled assessment will rely on memory. You then go on to say that children should be prepared to rote learn. Isn't that relying on memory? Isn't that the problem. In reality our subject relies on having a good memory more than any other subject. Constant hard learning and exposure is essential. But then that's boring isn't it?
  13. Hear, hear, Random 175. This is an issue we have been grappling with in our school. The new CAs do rely on memory to some extent, but there is also a lot of hard work to be done in the first place before the learning starts. Is there an alternative to the rote learning of verb forms? Proably not, and as you say I don't see such a reliance on constant hard learning, exposure and memory in subjects such as Science, History, Geography, English ........... etc etc.
  14. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    There's a difference between learning whole paragraphs of a prepared text (possibly prepared or corrected by a teacher) and memorising grammar points, spellings and verb conjugations so that you are able to create your own sentences and paragraphs in controlled, or exam, conditions.
  15. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

  16. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    Using a Maths analogy, you learn Times Tables by rote in order to be able to do muliplication of any set of numbers without needing a calculator.
    You don't memorise specific multiplication problems like 146 x 372 before an exam.
  17. They may be the same skill, but I contend that interest is the key issue at hand. I learned French from year 7 and Spanish from year 10 and am now fluent in both because they interested me. I'm going to embarrass myself now and tell you that I can't chant my times tables because it bored the living daylights out of me. Obviously, I have/had the memory skills necessary for both tasks but chose to set my mind to only one of them. I can chant the endings to the full paradigm of all the tenses in Spanish, but can only get up to about the 8 times table. Dull dull dull, and unecessary - I always have a calculator to hand, although I very very rarely have to multiply anything anyway. And don't get me started on the uselessness of Science.
  18. Random175

    Random175 New commenter

    When I was at school (yawn, yawn) we did both. We learnt oceans of conjugations, gender, spellings, plurals etc AND we had to learn songs, plays and we always had about half an hour of dictation etc. Some people find learning tables (verb tables) easy some find it easier to learn real sentences and remember the grammar patterns from there. I make my lot do both. (oh I prefered real stories,poems songs but was a real wizz at Maths tables).
    The point remains. Getting knowledge into your head is hard work, we can sweeten the pill but it still makes your brain hurt - or so it should.
  19. I can see Controlled Assessment (CA) continues to attract lots of comments in this forum. Like Random 175, I remain convinced that learning is the key - whether it is verb tables (I would recommend learning wheels for this purpose) or full sentences, it is hard work. I'm trying to see some positives in the fact that the playing field has been levelled through CA, in comparison to other subjects, with access to resources, marked work and dictionaries in the planning stage a huge improvement on what we used to have. One concern I do have, though, is the marking of the CA Speaking tasks - this is going to be very tricky in centres with large numbers of candidates.
  20. Which doesn't mean that a good curriculum would have made things easier for you, does it?

    German schools always have 45-minute lessons. In Bavarian grammar schools, pupils get the following amount of language lessons a week:
    first foreign language: Y5: 5, Y6: 4, Ys 7-10: 3
    second foreign language: Ys 6-8: 4, Ys 9-10: 3
    third foreign language (optional): Ys 8-10: 4
    In Ys 11-12: at least one foreign language: 4
    optional supplement language (drop one, start another one): Y10-12: 4
    That's 405 contact hours for the first, 409 for the second and 333 for the third and supplement language. So it may be less than you had but I think it's still more than most English pupils have.German Grammar school pupils reach B1-level at the end of Y9 (in first, second and third foreign language). Y10 ends with B1+, A-level gives you a solid B2 with C1 in reading. During my time, you still got C1 in all skills if you took a language as one of your main subjects, but they've changed the system.

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