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Translation: the solution?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by Bungie, Sep 4, 2012.

  1. Bungie

    Bungie Occasional commenter

    I agree. Essays are simply too subjective. With AQA in particular, the mark a student receives is a lottery. As many others have said, superb linguists with excellent grammar, wide vocabulary and real fluency often perform worse than much poorer classmates.
    There are far too many marks for content.
    Employers don't want - and the country does not need - linguists who write self indulgent essays on "how pop music is a reflection of my personality" or other such nonsense.
    It is also a national disgrace that at A2 a candidate can write an essay on a topic that the examiner knows nothing about.
  2. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Agree that essays are problematic and at A-level the mark scheme makes matters worse still.
    Not sure about translation as an alternative. That could take us straight back to the 1950s.
    OCR used to use a summary exercises at A2 which I rather liked. Tests language, not ideas/structure.
    However, if you keep the cultural topic, it is hard to assess without using some kind of essay format, isn't it. The marks scheme needs to reward language more than content points though. The current scheme is too punitive. Ironic that the current spec is not meant to test cultural content, yet the mark scheme effectively does.
    Have I missed something?
  3. Bungie

    Bungie Occasional commenter

    It doesn't have to take us back to the 1950s and literary translation. The register of language could be everyday French, but with more advanced vocabulary and grammar than at GCSE.
    In other subjects, if pupils learn the material they get a good grade.
    In languages, even when they learn the linguistic material, they are downgraded for failing to jump through meaningless content hoops.
    Result: Linguists work much harder than students of other subjects.
    They are then penalised again by a ridiculous markscheme.
    They then drop the subject.

  4. Great post Bungie - I couldn't agree more.
    With translation the examiners' interpretation is downgraded in importance. This is a good thing given the various scandals and general discontent we have seen once again this summer.
    I would like to know what was bad about the 1950s though. (This is not rhetorical - what did they have to do?)
  5. Bungie

    Bungie Occasional commenter

    I wasn't around in the 1950's, but I took my A levels in 1980. The syllabus had not changed too much:
    1) Literature Paper. Study of 4 books which we answered in English. The literature did take up too much time and I wouldn't want to return to answering in English, but the books were set books from a list which changed every couple of years. At least the examiner had read the books! Provided that the students knew them thoroughly, and could prove this by reference to the text, they got a good mark - unlike the subjective "culture" essays of today!
    2) Language paper. i) Translation to and from the language. The material in the passages tended to be literary, but if you had a good knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, you could do well on this paper. The translation lessons were my favourite sessions of the week; I loved the challenge of getting it right. I shall be forever grateful for the training in grammatical accuracy. ii) Essay in the foreign language. There was a choice between creative or discursive essays. iii) reading and listening comprehension. iv) Dictation. This was a very useful test of grammatical accuracy.
    3) Oral exam. i) Passage to read aloud in the foreign language. As with dictation, in preparing students for this exercise, teachers taught them the link between the sound of the language and its written form - a vital skill which is often sorely neglected now. The VISITING examiner asked a few oral questions based on the passage. ii) General oral conversation. This was conducted by a visiting examiner, so cheating with a list of prepared questions was impossible.
    Of course there are criticisms one can make of this syllabus, but it was both academically rigorous and fair. Students got what they deserved. At the end of the sixth form I could speak and write accurately in the foreign language. I now mentor student teachers who have been through the new exam system. Often their grammar is truly shocking and I really would not want many of them to teach my own children.
  6. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    Much as I agree with Bungie's analysis, we have to remember that the A level candidates of a generation ago (I'm one of them) had come through O level, and that A level catered for a limited range of ability. Since the 1980s study at A level has had to cater for a wider range of ability. While other subjects have prospered, ours haven't.
    I've said it before, but I'll repeat it here. When AQA had launch meetings for the current syllabuses, not only for A level but also for GCSE, there was much talk of removing all the topics and instead a return to enjoying language study. AS has 12 topics, and A2 has 11. It is possible, as OCR proved with its alternative syllabus in 1986, to have appropriate language without some of the topics used since.
    Topics may well be a good way of capturing enthusiasm at key stage 3 and key stage 4, but I'd love to be rid of them at A level. We might then have a chance of teaching language.
    As for,
    is there any other subject at any level anywhere in the country where that would be allowed?
    And as for students getting what they deserved, when we dared to say that to a HT a few years ago, his reply was, "Aren't we better than that, colleagues?"
  7. Bungie

    Bungie Occasional commenter

    We do need to replace the meaningless, cheats' charter of GCSE and controlled assessment with a rigorous exam at 16+ which tests real language skills, and not the ability to learn parrot-fashion a chunk which your relative, friend, private tutor or, dare I say it, teacher has written for you.
    As the number of students studying post 16 has increased, the number taking languages has fallen through the floor.
    We need to re-examine our whole methodology and assessment models, for they have clearly failed.
    Bright students who would have studied languages post-16 a generation ago have been alienated by a one-size-fits-all methodology and an A level exam which, even when they have real ability and work very hard, does not reward them.


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