The MFL curriculum has not changed that much in the last thirty years. Students are voting with their feet and now under half of the GCSE cohort sits a GCSE in languages. Rather than tinkering with delivery, methodology, or pedagogy, we are discussing how to reimagine the MFL curriculum. Listen to part one of our discussion here. How can we help our students take the imaginative leap into a new culture and place? How can we get them excited about learning through the target language? What can we do to create a culturally meaningful, fairer, more purposeful, and less contrived MFL curriculum in the UK? Would these ideas also help students learn the target languages or just make teaching more difficult? In the second part of our conversation, Cate and MflTransform discuss what we could and perhaps should be including in the languages curriculum.
I’ve recently had a Year 10 and a Year 13 student working with me for some work experience, and we talked about their decision to take GCSE and A Level Spanish. They both (independently, as they don’t know each other) told me that they were the only one of their respective friendship groups taking languages. Their friends had warned them not to throw a grade away because ‘languages are marked unfairly.’ So this was my first question to MflTransform: are the GCSE language exams marked unfairly, and what effect is this having on student motivation?
He does not believe that perceived unfair grading is the problem. It’s not the ‘price’ of the meal that is putting students off the ‘MFL restaurant’, it is what we are serving up in the first place that is causing the decline in take up.
Culturally meaningful MFL
One of the key points MflTransform makes in this episode is that our MFL curriculum should be situated in the culture and mindset of the target language. It would then open up new worlds to students who need help taking the imaginative leap across the Channel to France or Germany. Many of our students are not particularly culturally aware, and indeed I have taught pupils who had not even ventured into the centre of Glasgow where I taught because they couldn’t afford the bus fare into town. Why would these students want to describe their flat in another language? Why would they want to pretend they are in Germany, and write a postcard home in German about a holiday they are struggling to imagine (having never been on one)?
What if we provided a bridge for students in the form of films, excerpts from literature, and culturally meaningful experiences that were novel to ALL of the students? Would that level the playing field and allow students to avoid the pitfalls of having to describe their own (possibly uncomfortable) family circumstances for the sake of getting a mark?
Different types of linguists
Another key point is that there are many ways to be a linguist. I’ve already discussed why linguistics would be a great resource for teachers with David Crystal here, because language is an infinitely fascinating subject. Children love playing with words, taking them apart, and having fun. They are interested in how people use language too, and as Michael Rosen explains here, language is always ‘language in use’. Could we do more linguistics and sociolinguistics in the MFL classroom?
What about speaking? There has been some discussion recently about maintaining the role of speaking in the MFL curriculum. Language teachers (myself and MflTransform included) have often had a ‘golden moment’ of being mistaken for a native of the language we are learning, and this is pure joy. We take that joy and want to help our students feel it too, but it’s a really long road to learn a language well enough to get pleasure from speaking it…isn’t it? (As a side note, my work with Babel Babies has shown me that we can help children love speaking languages from a really early age.)
The future of MFL
If we do nothing, surely MFL is swiftly going the way of Classics. It will be taught by a dwindling pool of teachers, and eventually become the preserve of the elite. German has declined so worryingly, that many schools have already stopped teaching it.
Does this mean we should make the MFL curriculum easier then? Would dropping the price of a bad meal make it more palatable to more people? Perhaps. We discuss whether the GCSE to A Level jump is too much. Could it be that the GCSE curriculum is at once intellectually vacuous and difficult, since students have to come up with spontaneous opinions about what they have for breakfast? And if we want students to learn 1000 words for GCSE, should we actually be more ambitious and teaching them 2000 words, in a richer, more culturally relevant, more purposeful, and less contrived way?
Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below, or joining the conversation on Twitter. Find us as @langrevolution or @lomo_linguist, and @mfltransform.
Listen to the podcast here or on iTunes (and hopefully soon on Spotify).