• Foreign Languages at GCSE

TSR Wiki > Study Help > Exams and Qualifications > GCSEs > GCSE Subject Guides > Foreign Languages at GCSE

Langauges are a common choice at GCSE with around half of students choosing at least one language to study. Many languages are available, the most common being French, German and Spanish.

For the most common languages the struture of the course and the exam system will be similar to that outlined below.



Foundation Grades: G, F, E, D, C

Higher Grades: D, C, B, A, A*

The course is divided into four skills


Foundation: 35 Minute Exam

Higher: 45 Minute Exam

The listening exam is answering questions in an exam based on a voice recording played for each question.


The writing skill is now coursework based, with 3 pieces of coursework, approximately 3/4 to 1 side of A4 each, all in the target-language.

1 piece of coursework must be done under exam conditions.


Foundation: 30 Minute Exam

Higher: 50 Minute Exam

The reading paper is a question paper based on target language-English and English-target-language translation and answering questions in the corresponding language (ie. Answering questions written in the target-language, in English and vise-versa)


Foundation: 8-10 Minutes

Higher: 10-12 Minutes

The set-out of the speaking exam is as following:

- Short Role Play

- 1 Minute Presentation with discussion

- General Conversation

All speaking must be in the target-language, and is recorded for playback.

Chinese GCSE

Chinese as a subject in the curriculum is restricted to specialist language colleges and native speakers. Only a few schools have it as a compulsory subject (e.g. Brighton College [1]). At the moment, Edexcel is the only British board to offer it, at GCSE and A-level (Edexcel also offers it at O-level. CIE offers Chinese at A-level, as Chinese (first language), Chinese language and Chinese literature, as well as Chinese (first language) as IGCSE). In the new GCSE specifications (from 2009), both Edexcel and AQA offer GCSE Chinese as well as Edexcel offering an IGCSE in it.


At GCSE, Edexcel, there are two options, a full four-skill GCSE (entry code: 1666) or a three-skill one (entry code: 1667) for centres without a teacher-examiner to do the oral; however, a native speaker can come to do the oral, even a family member. In the new specification for Edexcel, there are two short course options as well as the full four-skill GCSE. The speaking and writing parts and now Controlled Assessment, where two tasks must be done for each component. The speaking component allows you to choose from: a presentation, a picture based discussion or a roleplay, where you must choose two different tasks. The writing controlled assessment is based on a list of tasks submitted by the awarding body and a dictionary is allowed as well as a a prompt sheet of around 40 characters. The use of the prompt sheet is also allowed for the speaking.

Listening Paper

Edexcel offers four choices for the Listening Paper: Cantonese Higher, Mandarin Higher, Cantonese Foundation and Mandarin Foundation. The rubrics and the questions are all in english and all answers given must be in english. The majority of the examination is multiple choice with the final question requiring full sentences as answers with no multiple choice. The timings for the foundation and higher tier are different with higher tier paper duration of 40 minutes plus 5 minutes reading time and for the foundation tier paper 35 minutes plus 5 minutes reading time.

Reading Paper

Edexcel offers four choices for the Reading Paper: Traditional Characters Higher, Simplified Characters Higher, Traditional Characters Foundation and Simplified Characters foundation. Unlike the listening paper, there are just two papers which both have the simplified text and the traditional text. Again the timings are different with 45 minutes being allowed for the Foundation Tier Paper and 50 minutes being allowed for the Higher Tier Paper

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