Considering a modern foreign language GCSE or A-level? Read our FAQ here

Watch
Quirky Object
Badges: 20
Rep:
?
#1
Report Thread starter 4 years ago
#1
If you're thinking of studying a modern language at GCSE or A-level, but aren't entirely sure about it yet, look no further! Hopefully, this FAQ will help you to decide if modern languages are something you think you'll enjoy. Feel free to ask me any more questions you might have about modern languages and language-learning at GCSE, A-level or in general

How are foreign languages useful/relevant?
Learning a foreign language is extremely useful and can be extremely enjoyable. You'll be able to have deeper relationships with many more people, appreciate more literature, film and media without relying on translations, increase your awareness of and sensitivity to different cultures and improve your linguistic reasoning and understanding of systems and communication in general, all while being a more attractive employee. A GCSE will provide you with the basic oral and written skills and understanding you need to communicate with millions more people in their mother tongue, while at A-level, you'll gain a solid knowledge of all major grammatical concepts and be able to discuss a wide variety of topics with confidence, in addition to deepening your cultural understanding of an entire society through literary and media studies.

Not only will you be able to communicate more effectively with more people by learning a language, but many transferable skills are connected to language-learning as well. To become proficient in a language, you need the analytical skills associated with the sciences (to learn grammar and get acquainted with the structure of the language) and the cultural and verbal inclination associated with the arts and humanities (to appreciate and analyse the sociocultural environment of the society where the language is spoken). Because of this, foreign languages complement pretty much any subject and are always regarded favourably by universities and employers. I would particularly recommend taking up a language if you want to go into a field like law, economics or international relations, as it could open up some exciting opportunities at international institutions, or if you're doing science subjects and want to look more versatile without having to write lengthy essays.

How do I know if I'll enjoy/be good at languages at GCSE/A-level?
If you're reasonably good at picking up rules (and exceptions) and applying them, GCSE languages will probably not be too much trouble for you, but it might take some time - and experimentation - to find the learning methods that work for you at first. Confidence is also quite important; it's something you can and will build as you practise speaking the language and progress in it, but standards for oral exams in particular are not too high at GCSE level and so being too hard on yourself will generally be detrimental. For A-level, probably the most important factor is whether you enjoy the cultural aspects of language-learning, such as literary analysis. Many students are discouraged by that since it isn't what they're used to; it is, however, quite a significant component of A-level, so that's something to note.

Which language(s) shall I choose?
This is totally up to you, and it all depends on which language you find the most rewarding to learn and/or which culture interests you the most. The most common languages to study are French and Spanish, followed by German. They certainly are useful languages to learn; Spanish is very widely-spoken and opens up an entire continent, while French has a lot of international prestige as a business language and an official language of many international institutions. However, German, Russian, Arabic and Chinese speakers are in shorter supply despite there being a considerable amount of demand for skills in these languages (German-speaking countries are immensely politically and commercially influential and Russian, Arabic and Chinese are widely-spoken, United Nations official languages and - in the case of Russian and Arabic - regional lingua francas in Eastern Europe and the Middle East respectively), so one of these would also be useful. Here is an indicator of how hard you (assuming English is your mother tongue) might find each language. Personally, Spanish is the easiest language I've ever learnt, but if you prefer languages to have a more rigid structure, you might want to go with something like German instead.

How are modern foreign language qualifications structured?
GCSE is divided into speaking, listening, reading and writing; you'll be tested on your ability to hold a conversation on an assigned subject in the language. The aim is basic functionality in the target language and topics will include basic personal information and discussion of daily life, including school, future plans, your family and background and free time. In the new specification, more emphasis will be placed on your ability to respond to tasks on the spot (i.e. less coursework), and so you'll gain a more thorough understanding of the language. A-level also contains literary and cultural components; you will be tested on film and literature analysis in addition to your command of the language. For some exam boards, you may have to do a research project on some aspect of the culture of/topic related to a country where your language is spoken; this links into your speaking assessment as well. Topics you'll learn to read, write and converse about at A-level include the pressing political and social issues in modern society, as well as more complex discussion of daily life, the arts and culture in your target country and more in-depth and abstract conversation, with the help of more complex grammar (e.g. the subjunctive, which is used to express wishes, obligations and hypothetical scenarios).

How proficient can I expect to be in the language after GCSE/A-level?
This depends considerably on how much effort you put in! Nothing's stopping you from reaching a near-native level in whatever language(s) you're studying by the time you sit your GCSE exam, if you spend lots of time speaking and hearing the language and learn some extra grammar (depending on the language, various amounts of grammar are left out of the GCSE: GCSE German leaves out much more compared to French, which leaves out more than Spanish). Equally, you could - though this might be harder with the new specification - get through the entire GCSE while barely knowing how to hold a conversation in your target language. In all, I would say that a GCSE in a language gives you an equivalent of A2 or B1 proficiency on the CEFR scale if you learn everything on the syllabus but do no extra work.

At A-level, you can no longer get away with barely knowing how to converse, but your level of fluency will similarly depend on your effort. Learning everything on the A-level syllabus will probably get you to a B2 level on the CEFR scale, which will be adequate for most purposes.

How hard is the workload?
Modern languages have the potential to have incredibly light workloads. I did French and German at GCSE (as well as Latin) and did absolutely no GCSE revision for either. However, this was because I put in so much effort to learn and use them outside of school by chatting online, reading literature and the news, watching YouTube and generally enjoying whatever media I could in French and German. Consolidating your knowledge in small, frequent chunks is something I'd advise for any subject, but it is especially easy and fun for languages because you can pretty much do whatever you would ordinarily do to entertain yourself using English - just using your target language instead of English. If you use your target language enough, the GCSE will be a total breeze for you. If not, the amount of vocab you'll have to force into your brain and the phrases you'll have to write out and memorise may become overwhelming; languages can be very memorisation-heavy, if that's how you learn them.

A-level is a bit more difficult because you'll have to write and prepare longer pieces (for writing and oral), study literature and potentially even carry out a research project. Once again, though, the workload depends on how you learn languages, how long it takes you to write longer pieces in your target language and how crucial it is for you to consolidate your grammar knowledge frequently. I have heard such wildly varying answers about the workload of modern languages at A-level that there is reason to suppose that it is highly subjective and depends on your personal approach to language acquisition, which becomes more important in your A-level studies as you are given more independence.

How different are A-levels in foreign languages from GCSEs?
As I've touched on above, the main differences between modern foreign language A-levels and GCSEs are the focus on culture and society and the extent to which you are expected to be an independent user of the language. While GCSE focuses on basic communication, the speakers of a language, the social context in which it is spoken and the important issues in the societies where it is spoken become much more important at A-level. This takes the form of literature and film studies, but also manifests itself in the topics covered. You'll see a lot less of topics like "home and family", "free time" and so on and more topics centred on politics and culture. In addition, at A-level, you are expected to do much more without being prompted. You'll have to speak more spontaneously, write more independently and in greater depth and use the target language more frequently in lessons. For these reasons, the jump between GCSE and A-level is often described as significant, but if you finished your GCSE studies with a solid grounding in the basics of the language and a desire to learn more about the culture surrounding it, you shouldn't find it too difficult.
5
reply
mundosinfin
Badges: 17
Rep:
?
#2
Report 3 years ago
#2
Reading this desperately trying to find a solution as a triple linguist for GCSE (French, Spanish, German (and also Latin)) and I cannot for the life of me choose between them...
0
reply
Rebeccamaurier
Badges: 9
Rep:
?
#3
Report 7 months ago
#3
(Original post by mundosinfin)
Reading this desperately trying to find a solution as a triple linguist for GCSE (French, Spanish, German (and also Latin)) and I cannot for the life of me choose between them...
Which did you end up going with?
1
reply
Naima1999
Badges: 1
Rep:
?
#4
Report 5 months ago
#4
(Original post by mundosinfin)
Reading this desperately trying to find a solution as a triple linguist for GCSE (French, Spanish, German (and also Latin)) and I cannot for the life of me choose between them...
ddf
0
reply
X

Quick Reply

Attached files
Write a reply...
Reply
new posts
Back
to top
Latest
My Feed

See more of what you like on
The Student Room

You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

Personalise

Feeling behind at school/college? What is the best thing your teachers could to help you catch up?

Extra compulsory independent learning activities (eg, homework tasks) (7)
4.96%
Run extra compulsory lessons or workshops (24)
17.02%
Focus on making the normal lesson time with them as high quality as possible (24)
17.02%
Focus on making the normal learning resources as high quality/accessible as possible (20)
14.18%
Provide extra optional activities, lessons and/or workshops (41)
29.08%
Assess students, decide who needs extra support and focus on these students (25)
17.73%

Watched Threads

View All