Readers reply after the exams regulator Ofqual is accused of ‘killing off’ present day languages via marking them too harshly
Languages instructors have recognised for a long term that GCSE and A-degree exams had been subject to harder marking criteria than different topics. They’ve additionally known that students locate languages more hard than maximum different subjects they study. So your record received’t come as a marvel to them (Tough assessments ‘are killing off language mastering in colleges’, eleven May).
However, having simply returned to the school room after a 25-yr ruin, it has struck me that it’s no longer just the perceived difficulty of mastering a language that has contributed to the decline in language take-up. It’s additionally the obsession with testing and evaluation and the ever-in advance attention on obtaining GCSE “capabilities” (essentially exam guidance strategies) from an early age.
As quickly as students enter school at eleven it’s made clear to them that the overriding reason they may be in college is to collect GCSEs and how essential it’s far to begin making ready for them – tests which might be five remote years away, nearly another 0.33 in their lifestyles. This comes on the rate of engendering an entertainment of the difficulty. The USP of languages is that they’re one-of-a-kind from every other concern at the curriculum. Yet they suffer the equal dreary subjugation to GCSE project kinds, mark schemes and grade boundaries as all the relaxation.
A radical reappraisal of the manner languages are taught is their only hope for revival and, within the case of some languages, survival. After all, if college students recognise they’re getting to know a subject that’s going to be tougher to get an excellent grade in, what else is left to encourage them to take up a language other than sheer entertainment of the subject?
• As a instructor of French presently running in a secondary school, I would now not disagree with the emotions expressed on your article at the perceived chance to trendy languages teaching on this united states and accompanying letter (11 May), although I might nuance and expand them.
It isn’t always actually the harshness of the marking in public examinations that causes language-freshmen problems, however additionally the perverse pernicketiness of many of the duties students are required to undertake (pernicketiness that many local audio system of the language discover weird and hard to navigate). More miserable, however, is the crashing banality of the content of most of the language publications supplied in faculties: of their determined (and inaccurate) pursuit of what younger human beings find “relevant” and “interesting”, shackled to the requirement to supply the government’s eye-rollingly tedious programme for healthful, upright dwelling, the writers of examination board specs have also emptied the courses of any enticing intellectual content and any requirement that the students actually engage with the way of life of the nations whose languages they are gaining knowledge of. The real wonder is that any students in any respect pick out to hold with a current language at school beyond the factor to which it’s miles compulsory.
• As a professional linguist, I totally disagree with the 152 teachers who advise making modern-day language tests easier or marking them more leniently. Learning a overseas language is with the aid of its nature a hard organization and that have to actually be meditated in the examinations through which pupils are examined. Similar arguments ought to no question be deployed when it comes to, say, physics or chemistry, which may be even more difficult topics to grasp, but if effort is wanted to gain a solid grounding both in a language or in any other area, so be it. I am amazed to peer eminent academics arguing in favour of making inherently difficult topics ostensibly less difficult. Might your correspondents really be deprecating the want for effort?
• The problem of the decline of language-getting to know in colleges is disturbing. The reality remains, but, that many languages are tough to learn. One solution, consequently, would be to revive the GCSE that was provided in the easiest language spoken all through the world – Esperanto. Whether one desires to use it to speak with the thousands and thousands of audio system around the world or as a springboard to study other languages, its deserves have to not be unnoticed.
Professor Geoffrey Greatrex
Department of Classics and Religious Studies, University of Ottawa