Our annual year 8 options evening approaches this Thursday and with it come anxieties and much apprehension from the students who, along with their parents, will choose the subjects that will, hopefully, provide them with good GCSE grades and will open the door to further education and eventually university.
The government has increased the Ebacc subjects that students can take, but rather than make this easier for them, it puts restrictions on their choices as many subjects clash on the timetable.
I always explain to potential GCSE Spanish students that my subject is not for the faint hearted; a language after all, is not something you can just pick up 3 times a week without any revision or independent learning. The old saying, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” is never truer than when describing language learning.
Yet still, in this great island of ours, we have this monolinguistic approach to languages. Parents across the country will repeat the old mantra “Everyone speaks English”. Well actually, no! Everyone DOES NOT speak English! In fact, only 6% of the world speaks our language!
I always hope that the most able and keenest students opt for my subject and so far in my career I have been very fortunate. My current year 9 is by far the most able and fun loving group of students you could ever wish to spend your working day with.
But how do you discourage the student who has low literacy skills in English and really, in all honesty, should you discourage him/her? You know that you are going to have to work twice as hard to get a decent C grade out of him/her, but they are keen…for the first few months, that is! It happens every year; the borderline student who is going to scrape a C grade in English and you’ve been given the unenviable task of getting him/her a C/B in Spanish! Unfortunately, as soon as you introduce the idea of independent learning, with the addition of the imperfect, the conditional, the preterit, the future, the perfect, the pluperfect, not to mention being able to recognise the holy grail, the subjunctive, our modern language student suddenly discovers that he/she, and I quote, “can’t do Spanish”.
As I said earlier, I have been very fortunate, and over the past 5 years I have only lost 3 students due to the “I can’t do Spanish”. But to be fair, languages ARE difficult, they do take up a huge amount of your time just to keep on top of things and they do need a huge amount of determination and dedication to succeed.
So, what do we as MFL teachers do? Do we say to prospective GCSE hopefuls, “come on in, the water’s fine, you’ll be ok” or do we say, “are you prepared to do that little bit extra, a little bit of Spanish every night, are you prepared to learn conversations and essays by heart, are you prepared to take every opportunity given to learn and study another language? Because this is what it takes”
I have a passion for language learning; I have an obsession for Hispanic issues, history, culture and people and I believe that learning any language enhances your own language skills and your life, but I’m not in year 8 and I haven’t got a million and one other things competing for my attention.
So, come Thursday, I will do what I do every year: show the text books we use; inform parents and students alike of the brilliant opportunities that someone with a foreign language can have; describe the syllabus and what exams are taken and what percentage of the final grade they stand for, and show parents the wonderful online resources we have to make the language come alive and be more digestible.
How does your school decide who takes languages at GCSE? Are languages compulsory in your school and, if so, how do you motivate those students who really do not want to work or study or learn? What is your Options Evening like?
Related post: Need help convincing students to take GCSE ?