Sacré bleu!

newsletter 170415

The days of walking past a French classroom and hearing children reciting “où est la plage?” (where is the beach?) and “quelle age as-tu?(What age are you?) might all be a thing of the past. The OCR, one of the UK’s leading exam boards believes that these phrases are outdated and no longer apply to the current generation. So they have decided to rewrite the GCSE language phrase book with questions and phrases that are more relevant.

The BBC reports that instead of learning how to ask “ou est la bibliotheque?” (where is the library?), children will be encouraged to talk about tattoos, music festivals and other topics that are seen as more relevant in their German, Spanish and French GCSE lessons. “Students aren’t going to go meet up with someone in a café in Paris and discuss their entire family” a teacher told the OCR exam board. But are they right?

It is proposed that this will be implemented next year, kicking out the out-dated phrases such as “il y a toutes de belles chose dans les vitrines!” (there are many beautiful things in the shop windows!) not a saying you here many 15-16 year olds saying and replacing them with phrases such as “A mon auis un tatouge discret est une expression de ta personnalite” (in my opinion a discreet tattoo is an expression of your personality).

This overhaul comes at a time student numbers for modern languages has never been lower. The Guardian reports that statistics are showing the number of British Universities offering French degrees has fallen by a total of 40% since 1998, and halved for German degrees. It has been revealed that the new curriculum could ask German students to complete a film review of Lola Rennt (Run Lola run), whilst the new Spanish course includes tweets on the Olympics. Katherine Smith, in charge of the new education board believes that this allows the language lessons to move away from the old clichés.

But where will this leave our modern language teachers? Should children need to have the ability to converse about tattoos and rap to pass their GCSE tests? The main concerns for teachers will be the changing curriculum. How much will this add to their already excessive workload? Let us know what you think…

6 thoughts on “Sacré bleu!

  1. Learning a language is about applying some skills.
    Vocabulary can be picked up at any time, it’s not that important , just a means yo an end really.
    Grammar is vital though.
    As a qualified french teacher who has taught in secondary and now in primary, but also as a native french , I generally found that the average standard of the language teachers in secondaries was so very poor. French which doesn’t sound french will not inspire anyone.
    I by no means mean offence to all the mfl teachers out there who are passionate about their jobs, and let’s face it , in England they need to be passionate facing the general attitude towards languages, but as a pupil I could tell when my language teachers were possibly just a level above me and they spoke English with a french accent ( I went to school in France ) .
    I have worked with colleagues whose french made me cringe.
    Some of the phrases taught, I have never heard of , and the literal often replaces what is actually said by a native speaker.
    So how can this motivates students ??
    I teach french in a primary school and the children can’t get enough !
    I use the revised ks2 units for french, but I know that when they get to year 7 , they will learn the stuff again, because secondary schools/teachers don’t take the time to find out what their new intake already know and start them all back from0. That way they cannot keep that momentum going. Primary french is very poor in most schools, taught by teachers who listen to a cd because they know nothing of the language or language learning skills themselves.
    My headteacher thought that if the job was going to be done , it should be done properly and the fact that I am a native and mfl teacher has worked !
    Schools should be enabled to hire people who inspire because they are experts.
    So yes, it is about time the old secondary units were scrapped, that groups were organised when arriving in year7 to cater for what language experience they received in primary .

    However, I do think that teaching the children to talk about tattoos is a step too far and quite irrelevant. Not every teenager has a tattoo but practicality is the key.

    A new scheme based on structural learning , grammatical understanding is what is needed to develop that independence to communicate without the old phrase book.
    If you know how to put it together, then you may learn a new work and be able to use it.
    Otherwise , it’s pointless.
    I remember the gcse speaking, where kids had learnt stuff by heart and blurted it all out on a recording, without actually being able to dissect it and make any use of it.

    Language teachers need to up their game, I agree , pronunciation and grammar, but do not replace one uninspiring scheme by another, that won’t up the gcse figures !

  2. Marie, I couldn’t agree more with you!!! This is exactly what’s happening in British schools. I’ve worked with teachers who never used the target language in class for the simple reason that they are not confident enough with their language skills. Unfortunately, these people are often the ones who go on to become Heads of MFL without having the necessary skills. I’ve also worked with a head of department who vowed to scrap all books and only work with power points because she felt more comfortable with that. Power points are OK but it leaves a student with nothing to work with when they go back home.
    The system of language learning is completely wrong, there is actually no learning taking place. Students don’t learn absolutely anything because there is no motivation whatsoever and also no requirement to learn anything more than the GCSE answers to get a good grade that would give the school a good place in the league table.
    Another thing is that experienced, talented teachers are not hired if they are over 40. Inexperienced NQTs are always preferred as they cost a lot less. Profit before quality teaching…

  3. It is very sad to read the above. I think that teachers who are only one step ahead of their students are in a minority. This is normally down to a shortfall in the timetable or levels of staffing but I don’t think it’s the norm.
    It is up to the teacher to inject relevance into what they are teaching by showing students how what they are learning could be put into practice and by giving them extra phrases which are current and by doing cultural projects along side the text book.
    However, most language teachers have time constraints and a lot of pressure to get results from senior management which leads to a style of teaching which is based on getting students through exams.

  4. NQTs aren’t necessarily inexperienced or lacking talent…nor do they provide any poorer quality teaching than those who have ‘taught’ for years. As an NQT who achieved ‘excellent (1)’ in all QTS examined I have found that it’s those who you learn from and how much effort you put in yourself which contributes to your experience and quality of lessons. I agree that learners are influenced by teachers’ behaviour and actions (see Bill Rogers’ collection of works on classroom climates) – if the teacher isn’t motivated or enthusiastic then the learners wont be either – but I have seen teachers who are over 40 who don’t move from behind their desks and who don’t engage with those in their class. Time isn’t taken to get to know learners, their needs, and their interests. Time isn’t taken to experiment and try new learning strategies or to implement experiential learning where the language is brought alive and the native culture brought into the classroom. They hand the text books out and instruct the learners to ‘copy and complete’ – no wonder we are losing learners to other subjects! On the other hand, time isn’t allowed to do these things either. Pressures on teachers, arising from factors such as predicted results, league tables and school budget cuts, affects all teachers – ‘experienced’ or NQT.

    Children are changing and so teaching must change in order to meet the needs of those concerned. From what I’ve seen, NQTs are more than willing to accept constructive criticism and to try new strategies to improve what they are able to offer the children. Training now is heavily focussed on being reflective practitioners who respond individually to the needs of each class taught. For example ‘language cafes’ where learners can improve their language skills and social skills whilst experiencing the concerned culture through music, news clips, and the like. NQTs have also more recently spent their year abroad during their university training and perhaps more confident and/or knowledgeable to talk about the language and its current culture. Food for thought.

  5. Teachers a step of their students in languages are far from a minority. Secondary schools teachers get away with it because they reach the same stuff year on year, primary school teachers have to be competent in so many areas they are overwhelmed and put their hands up.
    They acknowledge that they cannot do language teaching justice.
    The worrying thing, I agree with Katerina is that there are so many poor secondary school language teachers out there, how can it be inspiring to anyone ?
    Still they get away with and often hold high positions . I feel sometimes that specialist linguists are an endangered species, too often replaced by
    power points, textbooks , so called non specialists schemes I won’t name and even google translate ? How is any of this going to inspire and show the pupils of Britain the importance of global learning and language learning ?
    A farce ….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>