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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!

speedology Fri 05-Jul-13 19:57:05

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LadybirdsEverywhere Thu 04-Apr-13 22:31:09

Universities do rate MFL GCSE.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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


As a professional linguist

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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