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!

cory Wed 20-Mar-13 16:22:25

I never got the "nobody should be forced to do a language if they are not interested/haven't got a talent/it might bring down their grades"- argument.
Why is that more valid for languages than for any other subject?

Dd hates maths. She has no particular aptitude for it either. The maths teacher doesn't care; he expects her to work hard anyway.

Come to think of it, she hasn't got much time for science either and it is doubtful if it will be immediately important in her proposed career. Again, the science teacher doesn't give a monkey's.

If it brings down her grades, then that's just tough cookies.

I think there is a strong argument for regarding a foreign language (i.e. getting your head round the fact that people in other countries think and express themselves differently) as a general education subject of at least equal value to algebra or biology. It helps to make sense of the world around you, even if it is never of any immediate use in earning a living.

shoobidoo Wed 20-Mar-13 17:20:26

Agree with Cory. In fact for many people languages will be far more useful in life (work and pleasure) than History, RS or Physics, for example.

tiredaftertwo Wed 20-Mar-13 20:49:41

I agree that a language is important as part of a broad education.

I disagree that learning German or any language will be useful in science or engineering, unless you continue it to a much higher level. Have a look at the MFL syllabus and its vocab about holidays and food and the colour of your family's hair. And then read a scientific paper. Science and engineering is very international with a common language - English.

shoobidoo Wed 20-Mar-13 22:12:11

Of course GSCE German/French is only the first step to becoming fluent in a language - in no way would it be sufficient to study at a German/French/ Swiss University. But at least it is a step in the right direction - one can then build upon it by spending say 6 months working/studying in the country to become fluent.

With UK Uni fees rising and most European Unis still free, worth conisidering.

cory Fri 22-Mar-13 08:28:55

Agree with shoobidoo that GCSE languages are useful as foundations rather than the full package. Unlike languages like Mandarin or Japanese, a GCSE in French or German will actually give you enough of a background to carry on studying the language on your own with a dictionary. Dd who is in Yr 11 has taken to reading simple French books in this way. She will be not be doing French A-level, but I expect her to have reached a much higher level of French in a few years time, simply because it's become part of what she does. She is very into drama and has now realised that if she needs access to a play in French she can have that, she has the basic skills to build on.

I can't speak for scientists, but I am just off to do a specialist workshop in my own subject and one thing that strikes me, reading the preparatory material, is how hampered you are as an academic if you are cut off from research that goes on in French and German using cultures (and academics writing in French and German are by no means confined to French and German speaking countries), how insular it makes you look.

BackforGood Fri 22-Mar-13 08:41:50

An employer told me he always looks to see if an applicant has a MFL at GCSE, simply because, in his experience, that means they were in the "brighter" part of the year. The job applicants don't need their language skills for his business, but his thinking is that every school will do it's utmost to get every pupil through Eng and maths, but MFL is one that's likely to be dropped by less academic pupils. He wants people who can learn on the job, and that's his filter.
That said, my dd has just done her options choosing, and has chosen differently from what we would perhaps have hoped recommended she would. Ultimately, as other have said, if they are determined they don't want to do a certain subject, then they are probably better getting a good grade in another subject, and one GCSE here and there doesn't matter IMO if you have a fairly broad range of traditional subjects in there.

BackforGood Fri 22-Mar-13 08:45:00

Cory - my dh is a Scientist. All Sciene papers / conferences / discussion do happen in English but he has travelled to different parts of the world, and actually has to get fom the airport to the train, from the train to the hotel, greet / socialise with his hosts / go out for a meal and order in a restaurant / go to the shops / etc. whilst travelling. So a basic grasp on any / all MFLs is incredibly helpful.
Same with a friend who is an accountant / auditor for a multi national. Obviously the work itself is checking the books add up, but he has to travel and meet people in different countries. His languages have been invaluable.

bruffin Fri 22-Mar-13 09:02:20

The job applicants don't need their language skills for his business, but his thinking is that every school will do it's utmost to get every pupil through Eng and maths, but MFL is one that's likely to be dropped by less academic pupils. He wants people who can learn on the job, and that's his filter.

He is very shortsighted and probably missing out on some good candidates

It sounds like an interview my friends dd went to. She has a 1st in business at uni, but an ABC for alevels and was turned down because they don't take anyone on who has less than an ABB,

Cory - my dh is a Scientist. All Sciene papers / conferences / discussion do happen in English but he has travelled to different parts of the world, and actually has to get fom the airport to the train, from the train to the hotel, greet / socialise with his hosts / go out for a meal and order in a restaurant / go to the shops / etc. whilst travelling

MY DH is a professional engineer and wasnt allowed to take language at school as he was dyslexic (all his qualifications have been since school). He has worked all round the world and spent a lot of time working (over a year of his life when you add it all up) in Europe mainly Germany but also France/Spain and Italy without any languages at all. Had no problems getting around, talking to clients getting complicated engineering problems sorted it.

cory Fri 22-Mar-13 09:28:49

I think it depends on what kind of job you work at and to what level. My academic colleagues would probably argue that they are fine without MFLs- but reading over some of the work that gets done, it's so insular; it's like the rest of the world doesn't exist; they don't know what they're missing out on.

Am just planning for a workshop that is based on the premise that "very little is being done in this area at the present time". The truth is that masses is being done but it's being done abroad, in other languages, by people who speak 4 or 5 languages as a matter of course; we are left out of the loop in this country because we only look to the Anglo-Saxon world.

My db runs a computer business: when he travels all over the world it is to sort out specific problems on request and English is absolutely adequate for that.

For my uncle otoh who was a sales director (and a scientist from the start), general cultural knowledge, having read the same books and accessed the same operas as his clients, was a big part of what made him so successful; dinner parties, building up contacts, making people feel at ease was essential to his work.

mayanna123 Fri 22-Mar-13 12:07:56

Another one here who is bilingual and has benefitted from my languages for both professional and private/holidaying purposes. And for those languages that I don't speak - I try to learn a few phrases instead of 'expecting people to speak to me in English'.

Languages open up doors and insights into other cultures. Yes, you may get by in English but to really understand and relate to your colleagues/clients it helps enormously if you are able to speak their language.

I'm surprised how popular Spanish is becoming - it might be useful for holidays in Benidorm, but in terms of business uses I don't think it is that useful. I can't think of many businesses that might attract UK graduates - also, unemployment is very high, especially youth umemployment. German, on the other hand, is useful for anyone interested in Science, Physics or Engineering and has a lot of very succesful Automotive, Engineering and Chemical companies - also, unemployment is at a record low there.

With the increasing global competition, I think languages can help to open doors.

BackforGood Fri 22-Mar-13 13:42:01

bruffin - sorry, I should have been clearer, these weren't graduate jobs, these were jobs which people with Level2 qualifications could apply for smile
With any strategy, if you have to filter 100+ of applicants down to a shortlist of 6 or so to interview, you do have to be quite arbitary, and there's always the risk you will miss a good candidate. But I just thought it would interest the OP to know that line of thinking.
Re your dh - great. I'm glad he hasn't had any problems. Just, from my own experiences of arriving in a foriegn country on your own, I know it's a damn site easier if you can get by with a bit of basic grounding in the language, than if you haven't every studied that language.

bruffin Fri 22-Mar-13 14:54:01

That does make more sense, but if dh had taken a language which one. He would have had to have learnt german, french, italian, spanish, portuguese, dutch and turkish. These are all the non english speaking countries he has worked in.

I was bilingual until i was 9 and my nan died (she couldnt speak english). I couldn't have a conversation in greek anymore, although i do recognise some words.

Tasmania Sat 23-Mar-13 13:34:54

Re German for sciences... It becomes important at PhD level and beyond.

LadybirdsEverywhere Thu 04-Apr-13 22:31:09
speedology Fri 05-Jul-13 19:57:05

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