How important is a foreign language at GCSE level?

(90 Posts)
saladfingers Fri 08-Feb-13 15:39:01

My DD is adamant that she doesn't want to do a GCSE in French/Spanish/German but as we live in Wales will have to do at least short course Welsh couupled with RE which will be half a GCSE each as part of the Welsh Baccalaureate.She has no idea what she wants to do at A level or beyond.I would really like her to keep her options open at this stage and to have the broadest range of subjects.She wants to do the combined science course(Physics/Biology/chemistry) which will be 2 GCSEs,English,Maths,ICT,Geography,Art and Psychology which will be a total of 9.

My concern is the lack of a MFL.Do you think it is essential? I wish it was compulsary.How many of you have another language? I know I wish I did!

gabsid Wed 13-Feb-13 11:32:24

I wouldn't count a GCSE in a language as 'having another language' but together with an interest in another culture it might tempt her to do it at A-level, and I feel that's when it starts to be fun and interesting because you can use the language, e.g. have a chat, read, watch a bit of TV etc and progress from there.

I feel learning another language can open another world and make her more open-minded and accepting of other people and cultures.

FadBook Wed 13-Feb-13 11:45:19

grin @ mr Gove being described a philistine! My DP would love that. His name is a swear word in our house!!

I see what you're saying, for entry in to University, it could put you in a better position to have a humanity or language as GCSE, to then get on the course which may have many many applications.

I suppose, for me, my experience stops at recruiting graduates (as in on an actual graduate programme). I have only recruited for very specialist roles which require degrees or post grad degrees, such as IT, Buying, marketing, Area or logistics managers so would look at relevant degrees/education specific to their relevant field or industry.

I am still surprised that a language is seen as something which "keeps doors open" when to me, in the world of work, later down the line, it would be a tiny factor which I might review personally. I'll speak to a ex colleague about this as he runs a very successful graduate programme so I'd be interested to see if he considers GCSE's during the application stage.

I do get the link that you've made about to getting in to university though - just that too, is assuming that everyone should go to uni and obtain a degree. They are becoming more and more common and I read something the other day about more and more young people obtaining a Masters level degree to be even more competitive in the job market. This in itself only fuels the divide between the rich and poor, as a degree is costly but obtaining a masters means even more money spent on education.

As an employer, i look for a balance between education, work experience (paid or voluntary) and their own personal goals. I have recently recruited a part time role which would have suited someone at uni interested in Engineering/sales/business admin. Of the 3 candidates at Uni, not one could explain why they wanted the job other than 'I want the job'. When asking one about their degree and what their overall goal was - it was like tumble weed had rolled through the office. Another who had an idea of what he wanted to do (property developer) couldn't explain how or why he was interested in this route - and he'd nearly finished his degree but didn't know what he'd do next So, whilst an education is great and definitely puts you in a better position than not having one, don't under estimate how important a young persons personality, goals and experience is considered when going for jobs. We actually offered the job to a SAHM who'd wanted to get back in to work. Her goals were clear, she could do the job and I have no idea what GCSE's she has! grin

Copthallresident Wed 13-Feb-13 12:18:53

It was compulsory at my DDs' school and one DD did two MFL but perhaps they were influenced by living overseas and seeing the world as a global not national place. Both are DDs so natural ability was not a factor in their enthusiasm.

DD1 is a Scientist and currently applying for internships, for two of these she requires one of her MFLs. She has taken up the opportunity to further her knowledge of a third language at uni (most now offer the opportunity alongside their main subject of study).

DH's company is global, hence overseas stint, and does not recruit anyone on to their graduate schemes without at least one MFL to GCSE, preferably two, and preferably with competence to higher levels.

FadBook Is that really your experience of graduate recruitment. I was involved in my company's milk round recruitment until I changed direction and became an academic ten years ago. The gormless graduates who didn't care enough to have researched the company and role were very much the exception rather than the rule. Most were very articulate, motivated and well prepared. I am if anything more impressed by our undergraduates who each year seem to be ever more successful in their choice of careers whether it is banking, law and business, travel and hospitality or NGOs but then they have studied another part of the world and most have a language that is in demand

Copthallresident Wed 13-Feb-13 12:20:13

Sorry, iPad deciding for me! Both are dyslexic.

Firewall Wed 13-Feb-13 18:20:46

If your daughter is capable of getting at least a C in a language, it would be a good idea to take it. Some universities this year have started to specify language requirements at gcse level for uk students which many have never done before. Eg for engineering at UCL. More universities may do so too in the future.

saladfingers Sat 16-Feb-13 13:06:22

Thanks for your comments.I stupidly posted just before half term started.I've been keeping 4 DCs entertained all week and have only just had the opportunity to come back see if anyone had posted.There is plenty of food for thought here.Might even share with DD.At the end of the day I don't feel that bribing or forcing a subject is going to get good results if the interest/confidence is not there to begin with,however I will continue to have this discussion with her.I'm reassured that the majority seem to feel she has chosen a broad range.

Xenia Sat 16-Feb-13 13:44:00

Traditionally clever children always did a language and children at most private schools will virtually always do one so I'd be a bit wary of her not at least keeping French on there even if it is one she gets a C or B in rather than anything better.

Of the4 ones she is doing

ombined science course(Physics/Biology/chemistry) which will be 2 GCSEs
,English (is that two GCSrs - english lit and english lang which most woudl probably expect a bright child to have?-
,Maths,
ICT, okay for an extra not a core one really
Geography fine
,Art extra and
Psychology extra

I woudl put her tally above as assuming 2 englishes as six of the core GCSEs children do in private and grammar schools rather than 8. I would rather she were doing a language and perhaps also history instead of what I call the extras above.

gabsid Sat 16-Feb-13 15:25:57

Its good to learn a language for all sorts of reasons, the least one would be employment prospects, in this country anyway.

But its great to learn a language well. Could you interest your DD to have a trip with language lessons in the country, e.g. one or two weeks in Spain with a host family and a couple of hours college in the morning. Its great fun, she will meet lots of now people, go on trips etc.

Just 2 weeks would give her a boost in the language and the confidence to use it.

Startail Sat 16-Feb-13 16:00:28

Unless science entry requirements have changed way better an A at some thing you can do than a C at something you hate.

Jolly glad I'm not still at a Welsh school as I was spectacularly bad at Welsh and gave up in Y9 much to mine and the teachers great relief.

lljkk Sat 16-Feb-13 16:09:50

Interesting reading. DS1 hates languages and I will not push him to do any at GCSE. I don't feel it will close down any options for him to skip MFL for now. He's not super-able or ambitious to be motivated enough to do MFL "just in case" either. He can go back & do MFL later if he becomes motivated and it's an important stepping stone to where else he wants to get.

I love languages myself & would have done loads in English system.

Startail Sat 16-Feb-13 16:12:45

Traditionally clever children at schools with reasonable MFL departments did a language.

Many state schools teach MFL very badly, I think universities have always quietly acknowledged this.

I know my cohort of bright scientist, a couple of accountants and a medic, scoured prospectuses and found that we didn't need a MFL.

The girl who did a SALT degree did and, despite being English, she did Welsh right up to A level (despite my efforts our Welsh master was great).

Things today are more competitive, but MFL teaching is still patchy.

Also dyslexics can be easily RG grade scientists, mathematicians and engineers, but spectacularly awful at MFL.

Rather than open both these cans of worms, I think most courses that don't directly need MFL don't ask for it.

Clearly it is necessary and given google easy to check.

cory Sun 17-Feb-13 10:27:35

In dc's school it is compulsory and I am very happy with this. Though GCSE French doesn't make you bilingual it is still a foundation to build on.

Where I grew up two foreign languages were compulsory and were not associated with clever children: it was just something everybody was supposed to cope with, just like they coped with the other compulsory subjects.

The "no point in doing a subject you hate" never seems to apply to maths or science- and plenty of students hate those.

But I do think parents can do a lot about selling a language. We hired a cottage in France last year, not that dc learned to speak French during a one week stay, but they did get to see that there is a world out there where people do speak French every day, quite naturally. We had fun together, so hopefully they associate the country with fun. And I took the opportunity to trawl the bookshops. Though dd hasn't said anything about it, I have found her with a dictionary working through those books.

We also have a good supply of subtitled French films, so they get used to hearing the language.

To me, it isn't so much about what future employers will ask for: it is about expanding your mind and understanding that British/American culture isn't the only one out there, that different people think differently.

I could never understand why there is so much acceptance of schools teaching languages badly, when nobody would shrug their shoulders at schools teaching sciences badly. And no, I have never needed the physics or biology I acquired at school for any employment situation. Still nice to have, though; you understand the world that little bit better. And that was what I was in no position to judge as a teenager.

Tasmania Sun 17-Feb-13 12:21:23

I personally think that parents SHOULD push their kids to do foreign languages, and do everything so that they do well in them. A lot of the jobs I got in London after uni was due to my foreign language skills...

... you are removing a lot of options for your dc if they don't at least learn one.

Startail Sun 17-Feb-13 12:43:08

cory hits the nail on the head.

As teens, the top set scientists at my school instantly got the idea languages were dull as dishwater, they were taught by the worst teachers and the SLT didn't give a damn.

Desperately unfair on those of our colleagues who went on to do English etc. who scraped French Olevel against the odds.

As an adult I am jealous of those who went to Grammar and private schools, where they were able to do a couple of subjects more and languages were able to recruit good teachers.

For my comp, it was a step too far. They got DCs into, what are now RG universities, we had medics at Oxford, pupils doing accountancy, physics etc.
Providing a fully rounded intellectual experience wasn't seen as a goal.

As DCs desperate to get our grades in our chosen subjects, we certainly didn't understand that our arsing about in MFL would, on occasions, make us feel inferior in later life.

Grove is right our DCs need a more rounded education. He is totally wrong not to include, RE, Music and Art and totally deluded in thinking that 40 years of dreadful MFL provision in state schools can be fixed by just making more children do languages.

creamteas Sun 17-Feb-13 16:02:39

My uni like many others has a range of international placements available for our students. However none of them are dependent on a MFL GCSE.

Students can study a language alongside their degree whether or not they have studied it before, and therefore still take up these options. On some courses this can be as an elective, on others it is as an addition to their main degree, but it is a possibility for any of them.

weegiemum Sun 17-Feb-13 16:11:42

In Scotland you need a mfl standard grade for uni. My dc are bilingually educated in English/Gaelic so will get 2 standard grades (gcse =) in first languages - they also have to do French. It's 7-8 standard grades, so it's English, Gaelic, Maths, French, 2xscience, MFL and Geog or history (I'm a geog teacher so that's kind of sorted lol. There's an option to drop a science for an arts subject, but it's looking like my dd1 might get to sit Art early as she's already drawing at Higher level in S1. So she could do 8 exams + art.

azulita Sun 17-Feb-13 16:38:59

my dd was all set not to do a language at GCSE but then some foreign friends came for the weekend and she suddenly changed her mind!

gabsid Sun 17-Feb-13 17:09:28

I agree with cory and azulita - it doesn't take much to change an attitude and voila they will learn.

Last summer we went to Spain and stayed in a very Spanish hotel (about 80%). The entertainment was mainly in Spanish and the non Spanish kids could easily join in. My DC (7 and 4) had a great time, I taught them a little Spanish before we went and DS even used it with some Spanish kids. DC love Spain, want to go again and they think Spanish kids are cool and very good swimmers.

In DS's infant school he learned to count to 10 and say hello in Spanish and German (he is German bilingual anyway). But now in Junior school provision seems very bad. They say he is going to learn some Spanish, but teachers say themselves that they can't speak it and hate to teach it (according to DS and a friend not connected to the school). So far there was no MFL teaching but as a HW they had to learn the days of the week in Spanish confused and that was it. I can't see that this is very motivating to take MFL further.

pastimperfect Sun 17-Feb-13 17:44:14

As a professional linguist, something I find a shame is just how little imagination schools have when it comes to languages. There is more to the world than French, German or Spanish. Or, indeed, English.

As for the OP... A language opens doors. You can see one language as a stepping stone to others - get one Romance language under your belt and there's a whole family of languages waiting for you. The trick is to have a competent and enthusiastic teacher who does more than just go through the motions.

And quite frankly, I find Fadbook's attitude towards languages deeply saddening.

Startail Sun 17-Feb-13 19:04:56

I hope that my non dyslexic DD2 will carry one with French, she loathes German (very inpatient, uninspiring teacher).

It is a huge pity that is the sum total of the choice, as she has been on holiday to Spain many times and it would be great if she could study Spanish.

This thread also high lights the other major problem with decades of MFL neglect in British schools, DH and I can between us teach science and Maths to A'level and beyond and take a pretty good stab at GCSE history, music, English and geography, it's easy to use Google to fill the gaps.

But for languages it's different, DH has O'level French and Latin, but at lower grades than anything else. He has never used them. I gave up languages at 14 with great delight. Thus we are least able to help with the subjects that our DDs least like and the cycle continues. MFLS continue to be the preserve of a few cleaver DCs with parents who were taught languages well or who are biligual.

No government has ever seen MFL as important enough to invest the money needed to improve teaching enough to ensure that there is a pool of people in the population with the language skill to help the next generation and break this pattern.

FadBook Sun 17-Feb-13 21:06:39

As a professional linguist, something I find a shame is just how little imagination schools have when it comes to languages. There is more to the world than French, German or Spanish. Or, indeed, English

I actually agree with this pastimperfect Learning Japanese, Portuguese or Mandarin would be more beneficial for a student to 'stand out' from the crowd or enter other economies. French/German/Spain are chosen because they are geographically closer to us, not necessarily because it is useful to learn the language when in employment.

And quite frankly, I find Fadbook's attitude towards languages deeply saddening.
Have you read all of my posts or just the first one and made that judgemental statement? I did further expand on my first post as I didn't' explain myself well enough. I've merely put forward an opinion from an 'employers' point of view. I admitted I haven't had the experience of them benefiting the Companies I have worked for. Of course they benefit Companies, but I have held my hands up and and said personally, I haven't seen a MFL GCSE being used during an application process for £18K plus positions. I have also agreed that MFL would be advantageous to get in to university, with many posters pointing out this is becoming an expectation. From an employment perspective, I stick to my opinion that by the age of 22, a GCSE in MFL isn't the be all or end all, but as above, I think Mandarin, Portuguese or Japanese are perhaps better languages to learn (given the emerging markets in China, Brazil and Japan)

Coconutty Sun 17-Feb-13 21:21:28

Not important at all IMO.

Far better to study something they want to do and will get a high grade in. I debated this last year when DS1 did his options and we eventually decided, after actually calling some RG universities and speaking to DHs cousin who works at Cambridge that it wasn't important at all. DS wants to be an architect and the Uni's all said GCSE MFL makes no difference at all to them.

And he's at a private school, as are lots of his friends and loads of them aren't doing a language.

The Ebaac is just for the league tables.

happily3 Mon 18-Feb-13 10:13:54

Coconutty, you say: 'the Unis all said GCSE MFL makes no difference at all to them'. Isn't that in the context of what a student is applying for? Of course they are going to highlight the subjects which are most relevant to the particular course a student is applying for, and I would guess that it is the case for many courses that a language is not necessary (and sadly GCSE is not a very high standard), but there is life beyond school and university. Competence in a foreign language is surely going to be helpful in today's world - so long as it is not the only experience a person has to offer.
We need to start languages much earlier. It would make it much easier for children to reach a more acceptable degree of competence. I'm sure ipads/computers etc.. could help with this - and encouragement from parents .. Could we ever reach a point where children did 5 minutes of their chosen language at home every other day - on the computer perhaps - the way they might practise their tables? (no, I'm not a mad parent - nor do I rush around all the time - I just doubt that languages will be able to take up much more time at school yet practice makes such a difference)
On the one hand I cherish and celebrate all the wonderful things about being British and really hope we will hold on to what's best about our country. On the other I think we appear arrogant and ignorant because so few of us care about trying to speaking anything other than English ...

Xenia Mon 18-Feb-13 12:04:14

Most of the academic private schools do require a language. You used not to be able to get to university without a language. Some employers at the top end will be surprised if there is no language on the CV so if possible I would try to ensure a child had a language.

I got 9 O levels including French (A) and German (B), and went on to do Law and French at university. My French is very good (not bilingual) and it has had a hugely positive impact on my life. Sounds a bit wierd, but we have a (little!) house in France which we renovated, and this would never have happened if I didn't speak French.

Languages are not directly relevant to my job, but I speak French fairly regularly, and find it useful to follow others, even when I am not participating directly. I even managed to speak a bit of (Bad) German at work recently (conference abroad), and having an ability with languages helps me to communicate in other languages that I can't speak (eg Italian).

Having recently travelled a lot for work in Europe, I am pretty embarrassed at how we always assume others will speak English....in my company even fairly junior personnel in Spain, Italy, Romania speak English, and it puts us (the English) at a disadvantage.

I will be pushing my children to do at least one, preferably more languages when the time comes. I don't find that I use geography, biology, chemistry etc in quite the same way - they were useful for getting me to the next stage of education put very simply.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now