This week I was struggling for a post for my #weeklyblogchallenge17. Not knowing what to write I turned to twitter, and I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. I quickly ended up in a discussion with someone about the importance of MFL at GCSE level. I hope I don't misrepresent their beliefs by saying that they were of the opinion that if you weren't going to take a languages degree then A level languages were not worth it, and therefore MFL GCSE was also unnecessary for those who weren't going to take A level. Thus rendering MFL GCSE pretty pointless it would seem
The following blog intends to combat some of the arguments I faced during this discussion, and to raise as many reasons as I can to justify my belief that the majority of students have something to gain from studying a language at GCSE. I would be really interested to hear other points of view in the comments or via twitter. You can find me on the right hand side of this page, or here @BexN91
Below is a list of potential arguments against studying a language. Some of which are totally true but very worrying ideas to accept as fact and leave unchallenged. After sharing this list I shall set about why I think these points are worrying or even wrong. (Sorry if I have repeated any similar points in the list).
I shall first focus on the points from above that contain some worrying truths. MFL grading has been a topic of interest to MFL teachers for quite some time now. We are all very aware that getting an A at GCSE is harder in MFL than in a number of other subjects. Steve Smith has mentioned this in many blog posts over on Frenchteacher.net where he discusses the fall in uptake at A level, and makes his own suggestions for how we get over this, one such post is here. I think there are a few issues at hand here:
Further lines of argument listed above note that there is no time for studying languages, and no point (especially for university students) if there is no credit to gain for it. I think there are many many things that we wouldn't do if it all came down to the credit we receive for them and our lives would be much worse off for it. To say that there is no point in doing something because we can't get credit for it is to write off many things that can be done for pleasure but that may also bring wider gains. What strikes me here is that people need to be aware of the benefits of learning a language. I don't need to state the obvious to MFL teachers who are used to preaching this but as well as employment benefits (to be discussed later), learning a language has a lot more to bring to the table. Meeting new people, being able to share experiences with others, enhancing travel experiences, increased understanding of your own language, opportunities to appreciate literature and culture of other places. University credit and GCSE grades are not the be all and end all.
Arguments surrounding the importance of GCSE subjects to Sixth forms and Universities are also important to address. Whilst Sixth form colleges may not be interested in what you studied at GCSE, some universities are. The Russell Group compiled a list of facilitating subjects, the subjects that they like to see applicants having studied. This list looks very much like the Ebacc. These subjects are those that will have provided students with a well-rounded education and knowledge and skills that these top universities value. Whilst few universities have a requirement for GCSE MFL, some still do and it is valued by many more. Whilst not a hard and fast rule, studying MFL at GCSE can make a difference.
When it comes to our national relationship with languages, stating that Britain has cut its ties with Europe and did so many years ago cannot be seen to be a valid argument. Is it ok to say that we are so ignorant or xenophobic that we do not value relationships with other countries? I believe that to accept that this is the case, and will remain so forever, is to build a fence around ourselves and never escape it. Such beliefs mean that we will not benefit from the full range that the world has to offer if we expect everything to come to us and rely on our own language.
Those that look back on their GCSE or O Level MFL and reflect that they can't remember any of it and never use it may make the argument that it is therefore of no use to any one to bother. This argument is flawed as it not only suggests that every other person in the country is just like them, and that teaching can never improve to ensure that in years to come students can still retain some of their language. Just because something is of no use to one person, does not mean it is no use to anyone else. I've never needed to use trigonometry, or know what colour the flame of some gas is, or the order of the planets, or understand tectonic plates, or recite a monologue from Blood Brothers, all of which were things I studied at school. It doesn't mean that they didn't enhance my understanding of other things, teach me skills for learning or just happen to be interesting things to learn for the sake of learning.
Further to this, the world is changing. I don't mean changing like in that Shift Happens video, I'm not talking in those terms. But, how can we say that our young people won't need to learn languages just because we haven't needed them?
My final argument to combat is that languages don't bring money. My first comment on that would be - who cares if they do?! But for those that do care the internet is filled with reports and articles discussing the need for language skills for the future of business in the UK. A GCSE in a language is at least a step on the ladder, a demonstration of aptitude to learn given further teaching. There are plenty of courses around for language for business. Using a language for work may not always require complete fluency, native proficiency or a degree in a language, of course sometimes it will, but it's simply not always the case. Studying a language at GCSE at least keeps the window of opportunity open, or gives a competitive edge over someone that does not have one.
Not only this but learning a language has many more benefits that are not at all related to money, qualifications and employment. If we're not interested in these reasons and are happy to accept that the world doesn't care unless it earns us money, then I think that's a very sorry position to be in.
Here are the first reasons that come to mind:
Are these things not worth the time and effort of learning a language?
Our task now is to spread this message, remove the unfair severe marking that disadvantages those that are motivated to study a language, prove to students that it is worth the challenge, and make languages a priority once more.