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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!

NotGoodNotBad Mon 18-Feb-13 12:38:33

Whether you use it in your future life or not, I think a foreign language is an essential component of a well-rounded education.

PurpleFrog Mon 18-Feb-13 12:57:00

In Scotland you need a mfl standard grade for uni.

weegiemum - I can't find any mention of this for Science subjects at Scottish Universities...

It was true in my day for the older Scottish Universities, but they appear to have dropped that entrance requirement now.

dd can only choose 6 subjects for Nationals and really doesn't want to use up an option for French.

Startail Mon 18-Feb-13 13:14:22

However, non of this detracts from the fact that Grove is living a dream if he thinks most state school DCs are going to do a MFL if it means getting one bad grade.

Until the government seriously invest in training good MFL teachers and force the examining boards to come up with enjoyable syllabuses many many DCs are going to opt out.

No way would I have swapped my 8 straight As for 7As and a C.

)Most likely I'd have dropped to a B for history as I'd have had to do a hell of a lot of work to scrape a C at French. It just didn't make sense. For many DCs, my DD1 included it still doesn't.)

Shanghaidiva Mon 18-Feb-13 13:18:23

I took French and German back in the days when we had o levels and had excellent teachers - both were native speakers. Having looked at a few past papers from GCSE I am amazed at how low the level is for GCSE.
I think it is useful to learn another language as it gives you a greater understanding of how languages work and can improve your ability in your native tongue too.

Re - learning Mandarin instead of German or French - not a sensible suggestion in my opinion. Although mandarin is incredibly useful it would take years of study to be able to put the language to any practical use.

NotGoodNotBad Mon 18-Feb-13 16:27:22

"dd can only choose 6 subjects for Nationals and really doesn't want to use up an option for French. "

Now there's an issue I agree - if you can only choose 6 you don't have the option of choosing subjects for breadth of education. 6 is ridiculously low at this level!

RevisionBuddies Wed 13-Mar-13 14:08:00

We think it's very important and they should be compulsory for a number of reasons. Take a look at our blog on the subject here..

nagynolonger Wed 13-Mar-13 18:04:05

It will depend on the DC. My eldest two needed a MFL gcse to get into the universities they went to. We did not find this out until we read the prospectus (sp?). So we were lucky. DD is good at languages and got A* in french and german. DS1 isn't and surprisingly managed a B. Neither did a MFL as part of their degree.

Three of my sons are dyslexic. One attempted french and failed dramatically. He hated it and it was the waste of an option. Not really fair on the teacher either IMO.
The other two didn't take a MFL. One went on to do apprenticeships so it didn't really matter in the end. The other is still doing A levels and wants to go to university. He knows he will have less choice but it was still the right choice for him.

The youngest is doing a MFL gcse this summer it was his choice.

They should not be compulsory IMO.

Mrsrobertduvall Thu 14-Mar-13 20:51:29

Ds is currently choosing options for gcse and will take a language.....either French or German.
He is equally good at both, prefers German.
For some reason, I would rather he does French...just feel it may be more useful. for what I don't know.
What do you think?

poppydaisy Thu 14-Mar-13 22:49:05

German seems more useful for business - think of all the German engineering and automotive companies as well as German and Swiss banks. Germany is also currently the only economy actually growing.
Not sure where French would be more useful...?

ZZZenAgain Fri 15-Mar-13 13:13:27

tbh any decent sized German company your dc might end up working with/trading with is going to have staff who will conduct business in English whenever required. Don't think you really need German for business for that reason.

Umlauf Fri 15-Mar-13 13:19:14

I learnt French and German at school and Spanish and Italian at degree level. The most useful by far has been Spanish. I have never used my German (although I loved learning it) beause as zzz says every German speaks incredible english. French and Spanish have been the most useful, but on a traveling basis rather than a work basis. For work, Spanish as its the most global and a very fast growing language. Italian to be has only been useful for fun, I enjoyed understanding the popes first speech for example, and can even translate latin as its so close.

Abra1d Fri 15-Mar-13 13:32:07

Sadly I agree about German, which I did for A level and also spent some time speaking as au-pair in Germany. I work with Germans sometime, and getting any German into our conversations is very hard work.

OP, if you want your daughter to compete with children from grammar and independent schools, pretty well all of whom will have a MFL, she's got to take a MFL.

poppydaisy Fri 15-Mar-13 20:44:56

ZZenAgain, speaking German would open so many doors if you're at all Science or Engineering focussed. There are some great Universities e.g. ETH in Zurich or Munich University as well as so many global succesful companies (e.g. Siemans, BMW, Daimler etc). I think speaking German would definately be a huge advantage. The pay is also so much better than in the UK.

Whilst Spanish is spoken by more, the Spanish economy is not looking great, and I'm not sure how useful for business South America is in the near future.

ZZZenAgain Fri 15-Mar-13 21:36:07

it just isn't necessary in those fields if you speak English. Loads of scientists work in Germany/Switzerland every year and most of them don't speak any German. It just isn't an impediment. Educated Germans all speak English and in all graduate level jobs in science or engineering where a UK expat might find work, you can work without a word of German. I am not knocking the language but in actual fact it is no real advantage in the workplace other than in low level employment. German companies will take the best person they can get. Whether that person speaks German or not will not make any difference IMO if they are recruiting from abroad. It would be important if you were to migrate to Germany and look for work there or for any low level employment it would be essential of course.

For a language to be really important in the workplace, it has to be a language spoken in a country where many people do not speak English well. There are other valid reasons for learning German but in terms of marketing potential on your CV it is not hugely valuable.

poppydaisy Sat 16-Mar-13 07:55:08

Sure, you can get by with English in most countries today! It is becoming a 'global' language.

But speaking a foreign language will undoubtedly set you apart from other applicants and most undergrad Uni courses are run in native languages (and are still free in many European countries).

ZZZenAgain Sat 16-Mar-13 11:04:04

German universities are mass universities. There are huge numbers entering all the courses each year and students are simply lost in the mass. There is little guidance and they are left to fend for themselves. This is simply a question of numbers. This is a result of govt. policy to open up universities to as many students as possible, entrance requirements were lowered and the old system of limiting places was dropped for almost all subjects. Medicine for instance still has limited entry yet cf UK universities the amount of students entering for a medical degree is huge. So you can imagine what other subjects are like where this system does not apply.

If an entry level course in engineering has to take place in an overcrowded lecture hall with students sitting on the floor and in the aisles, it is no comparison to a course where a small group are working together and able to ask questions, etc. You have to be an absolute self-starter which is why a great deal of students drop out. There is no tutor system equivalent to UK universities at undergraduate level. It is an option for people who come from third world countries definitely to get a degree from a recognised university but an undergraduate course taught in German is not an ideal study course for an applicant from many countries in the EU. It is better to study in your own languagefor one thing obviously you perform better and if you can, in a university with smaller numbers on each course since the ratio student-teaching staff makes a huge difference.

The thing to do perhaps would be to go to a Geman university for postgraduate or doctoral studies where numbers of students are fewer and contact to teaching staff therefore greater. However, degrees still take longer in Germany than in the UK. A lot of that is down to the fact that they are not very structured so you need to find out for yourself which credits are required and decide when you will do them , make sure you have everything done to enter for final exams. This can mean it takes 2-3 years longer to get to the same point.

Umlauf Sat 16-Mar-13 13:32:22

I agree with zen regarding German workplaces. In the research sector they are supposed to work in English, papers are mostly published inEnglish. I'm currently teaching english to a spaniard going to work in Germany, their German company he's working for are paying for him to have English lessons rather than German lessons.

The population of Spanish speakers is on the rise and Latin Americas economy is growing. Research and development in Spain has been well invested in recently, especially across northern Spain. It's probably he most useful in terms of holidaying too. French would be a close second for me.

Arisbottle Sat 16-Mar-13 14:05:40

I was talking to an Oxford tutor about this the other week. She said that while they did not need a language they liked to see it and that some universities are heading that way. For example UCL is asking for an MFL or will require study of a language when you start, I think she said Birmingham was following suit.

Startail Sat 16-Mar-13 14:26:04

Having a DD doing GCSE at the moment I'm firmly of the let them do what they like are good at camp. It's hard work and slogging away at a MFL to get a D or E when you could get a higher grade else where just isn't worth it.

It's also the one thing it's easy to learn as an adult.

poppydaisy Sun 17-Mar-13 14:00:14

How useful a language is for holidaying is very subjective. I guess most English do tend to go to Spain and/or France, so yes those might be more useful.

If, on the other hand, you go skiing in Austria and spend the summer in the Swiss/German/Austrian mountains/lakes, then German comes in more handy smile.

BadLad Wed 20-Mar-13 08:17:54


As a professional linguist

What is a professional linguist, if you don't mind me asking?

Tasmania Wed 20-Mar-13 12:46:01

I don't know where Fadbook works - but it is VERY dangerous to say that languages don't matter. Industries are becoming more globalised, and though you may never use another language apart from English in a business environment, foreign languages do help in making you look a lot less ignorant of the world at large as a Brit (if you can understand people when they whisper between them in THEIR language at meetings, it seriously helps). You know how Brits often make fun of Americans who don't really think much of what happens outside their country? Well...

Anyway, most of the jobs I got (I'm not a translator!) were due to me speaking another language. Why? In most companies I've worked for, we had / have clients outside of the UK. It was simply polite to be able to speak to them in THEIR language. They appreciate it. And if French and Germans can speak English (and even attend British and American unissued)... what on Earth is going on with the Native English speakers... why can't they do it the other way around? It's a little embarrassing, really.

More and more, the companies I have worked for are recruiting candidates from the continent who have all the skills a British candidate would have AND foreign languages to book. At one company I worked for in London, over a third of the employees were either German, French, Spanish or Scandinavians - taking most of the best-paid jobs, while the Brits were often left to do more boring, back office type jobs that came with lower salaries.

I expect this to increasingly be the case the more we move into a globalised world.

Tasmania Wed 20-Mar-13 13:03:06

P.S.: Regarding the German language... though they all speak English, it is still MUCH easier to build a rapport with people when you do speak their language/ understand their culture. As you go further up the ranks in business, it is rapport that matters most.

For example... I get MUCH quicker replies and am privy to information earlier than others because they can simply pick up the phone without much thinking and speak to me in German if they so wish.

shoobidoo Wed 20-Mar-13 14:11:38

I'm German, working for an International company in London. Speaking both English and German fluently has been a huge advantage for my career. Lots of our (smaller and medium sized) company clients have chosen us on the basis that we can talk to them in German - sure, many Germans (as well as French etc) speak basic English, but to build up a relationship speaking their languages helps.

Willy Brandt once said : "If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen sie Deutsch sprechen”

The attitude 'don't bother learning another language as everyone speaks English' is not one I'm encouraging my kids to have!

holmessweetholmes Wed 20-Mar-13 14:36:46

Hmmm. I disagree with lots of these comments, but then I'm an MFL teacher.
I would say language teaching is better than it used to be. And not necessarily better in private or grammar schools - it's just easier to teach languages there because the kids and their families tend to be more receptive to it. It's a hard subject to teach anyway because of the sheer amount of oral work.
Also, why do people think it would be so easy to pick up a language as an adult, for someone who was already presumably not good at it at school (where lessons and practice and resources are all laid on, rather than having to organise and practise in your own time as an adult)?
Some people just don't have an aptitude for languages. They can get good if they have the motivation or spend time with native speakers, but I'm not sure it's wise to persuade your dd if she really hates it and won't do well, OP.
It's also true, as several pepple have said, that a GCSE is really only the beginning step to 'having a language'. That's why I don't think teaching Japanese, Mandarin etc in schools is a very good idea except for the most able pupils - it takes a long time to get to a reasonable level.

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