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MFL degree and language experience

(80 Posts)
bevelino Mon 29-May-17 18:43:06

Dd is currently on a gap year and has a confirmed university place to study 2 MFL languages. Do universities assume all post A'level students have a similar ability? How are the lectures/seminars arranged where you have near fluent speakers and others who are not?

Are students tested and grouped by ability or are the less fluent students expected to catch up with the more experienced speakers?

Rioja123 Mon 29-May-17 18:46:59

I did French and Spanish. You have lectures and seminars on topics relating to the two languages whether that is literature or linguistics, or history/politics type modules and oral classes once a week. Of course there will be some who are better than others, but everyone is a decent standard usually.

RedMetamorphosis Mon 29-May-17 18:56:42

I studied French. There were never any assessments of our speaking ability, just the assumption that everyone was at least at a B grade at A Level.

All of our modules were in English but by the 2nd and final years, we were writing essays in French. I did more linguistics modules which may explain why they were more in English.

My spoken French was always poor (still is now) and I admit to being put off when put into an oral speaking group in 1st year with 3 people who were fluent/bilingual.

Until the year abroad, we were all assumed to have an average level of French. After the year abroad, it stepped up big time and assumed we were all nearly fluent.

bojorojo Mon 29-May-17 19:12:13

Speaking in your languages is only part of the degree and what you study. There is a lot of literature, film and culture as well depending on options. My DD did joint honours MFL and only those doing ab initio have a different grouping in y1 for language acquisition. Everyone else will be expected to be at a good enough standard after A levels. Due to MFL being 4 years, I am not sure gap years are that popular. Those who have done a gap year or are native speakers are at an advantage but not necessarily in researching and critiquing literature or in writing good essays. If she gets high marks for speaking and translation, that's good, but don't expect everyone else to be useless and in the 4th year the ab initio people will be fluent too as well as everyone else.

bevelino Mon 29-May-17 19:13:32

Rioja and red thank you for your responses and you have both provided excellent clarification.

bevelino Mon 29-May-17 19:18:14

Hi Bojorojo thank you for your comments. I don't think dd would think others would be useless. I think she is simply wondering how Universities teach students with different language experiences.

Dd is very excited about starting her course in September.

bojorojo Mon 29-May-17 19:27:24

Well actually some won't be too good even with glittering A levels! The big difference is how universities expect essays to be researched and written. Some people found this far more challenging than language acquisition especially if they didn't have essay A levels. Just tell her to enjoy what comes easily and work at what is more of a challenge and then you are ok. 4th year ramps up though.

AtiaoftheJulii Mon 29-May-17 23:47:00

It also probably depends somewhat on the university as the proportions of language or culture modules do vary from course to course. I was quite surprised about the range of variation.

When we went to a Southampton open day they talked about testing language ability, and students are (as I understand it) grouped at different levels. But that's of course only for language, not for any culture modules.

Some universities mostly teach in the target language, some never do. E.g. my dd1's been doing a first year French history/politics module - lectures in French, seminars in English, assessed essay in English, exam 1/3 French 2/3 English. Next year her chosen French culture module is lectures in French, seminars in English, assessed essay in French, exam in English.

Moominmammacat Tue 30-May-17 09:22:33

My son has complained about being judged against native speaking Germans and Russians on his course. But as others have said, it's only part of the course and after the year abroad the best of them will be much of a muchness.

bojorojo Tue 30-May-17 13:27:36

Unfortunately MFL courses at lots of universities are under-populated. There are not enough good students to go round as fewer and fewer srudents take MFL A levels. You only have to read a few threads on MN to see how parents want their children to drop MFL as soon as possible because it is too difficult. Therefore students with less good language skills and ability can access the courses. At the universities that are sought after, the breadth of student ability narrows because they can maintain standards. At one leading Russell Group university, DD was told on Offer Holders' Day not to worry about her third A level result. As long as the language ones were Ok, they would take her with two good relevant A levels. Just give them a ring if there was a problem.

All university MFL courses differentiate between ab initio and A level students in Year 1 for language acquisition, where ab initio is offered. I understand this is usually not available for French, Spanish and German.

My DD also found the native speakers to have an advantage at the language and translation but there is no answer to this. They can get a degree in something that they have been learning from birth and many have very close ties with the country and the language spending a considerable amount of time in the countries. My DD got a degree in something she learnt from age 11 and 12 with only a few brief holidays in those countries! She caught up. You could argue that a young person who acquired these skills much later in life without the benefit of life dealing them a winning hand, has achieved something fantastic! So hold onto that thought, Moomin!

I am not sure how much was taught in the target language on the modules. As some people were ab initio, one would imagine for Italian, the target language was not used in the first year because no-one had the A Level Italian or even the GCSE! However, to get on the joint honours (French and Italian) course, A level French was required at a Grade A and therefore I imagine there was more flexibility in teaching/examining in French from Year 1.

The universities have a very wide choice of options and of course these are down to the staff they employ and can vary year on year.

bevelino Tue 30-May-17 18:23:13

This is an interesting thread. My dd will be starting uni this September already fluent in both languages she will be studying but is interested in the history, literature, culture and politics of the 2 countries.

At interview she was advised that her existing language knowledge would give her a head start. However she is not remotely interested in bigging herself up and hopes that she can mainly focus on the other aspects of the course and not have to worry about having to learn the languages.

voilets Tue 30-May-17 18:51:45

Do you mind me asking where she is going? DD wants a vroad base of culrural choices in MFL bot just lit. Options.

She has few unis in mind

voilets Tue 30-May-17 18:53:59

Sorry. On phone
She wants a broad base of cultural options not just literature courses to choose from.
Wants also to do joint honours with MFL and a humanitiy subject

bevelino Tue 30-May-17 19:12:39

Hi Voilets I promised dd that I wouldn't disclose where she is going to uni as she wants to remain totally anonymous while she is there.

There are lots of different mfl and mfl combined courses out there. My dd conducted her own research into the modules on offer at the various universities that she was interested in.

voilets Tue 30-May-17 19:27:56

Okay. Many thanks. DD has done a fair amount of research but cultural aspect seems less well described. But there is a uni that feels right with good description of course. So let's wait and see. wink

RedMetamorphosis Tue 30-May-17 20:10:30

voilets - I did Joint Hons French plus other subject at Leeds and did no literature modules. That was my big thing that I did not want to study just books etc, but the overall culture.

I did popular culture, linguistics (totally fell in love with it in 1st year), cinema and philosophy modules. I felt Leeds overall had a great choice of different types of modules and also had 2 of the leading academics in their field in certain subjects.

AtiaoftheJulii Tue 30-May-17 21:27:08

Leeds's USP is really well organised joint honours, as far as I can tell.

Dd2 is doing French, Spanish and ab initio German. The only language you can't do ab initio at her uni is French. She's done the French history/politics I mentioned this year and a general culture of the Iberian Peninsula. The German is a double language module. Next year she's doing more French politics, and then an intro to Italian instead of a Spanish culture module, and a fairly general German society module. Of course, if you do fewer languages you get more culture modules to choose from!

As I said above, it does vary in the detail, but all the universities dd looked at had a good choice of culture modules.

Crumbs1 Tue 30-May-17 22:16:23

Y daughter is doing x2MFL at Exeter with an additional third language as a top up, extra curricular activity (she is already quite fluent but didn't want to lose it). The range of ability was surprisingly limited with all having a reasonable degree of fluency in their first language. The second language experience was more varied and many were taking from scratch. Expectation is that year abroad will be in second language with time spent speaking first language during holidays etc.
Much of academic work is around literature, history and culture of the primary country that their language is spoken in.

Crumbs1 Tue 30-May-17 22:18:56

Sorry - she rejected Oxford as not linguistically based course and is loving combining learning the language and also studying politics/literature and culture. She thinks Exeter has good balance but is also enjoying the social scene!

bojorojo Wed 31-May-17 09:59:38

I think it partly depends on what you want to do with the degree. For DD language acquisition was required of course but there was a wide choice of literature and cultural options. Not everyone sees their future as needing to be tri lingual and lots of careers don't need it. However the degree from the best university possible is of value.

If you don't need to work at the languages then you are blessed indeed and the other students will notice! It gives the luxury of part time study so you can spend more time on the options which is, of course, a huge benefit. Most native speakers do very well, not surprisingly.

Cantseethewoods Wed 31-May-17 10:06:11

My dd will be starting uni this September already fluent in both languages she will be studying but is interested in the history, literature, culture and politics of the 2 countries.

Isn't there an option to study another language from scratch? Assuming she doesn't already speak mandarin, it seems a shame to pass that up if it's available vs. having a relatively easy time of it in the two she can already speak.

bojorojo Wed 31-May-17 13:18:25

Students can apply for joint honours and some students will push themselves and do ab initio for a second language if they are fluent in one or two languages.

Whether Mandarin is vital is another matter as 350 million Chinese people are learning English. However it does show a willingness to push yourself academically. Any Language would open up new possibilities but that requires more work and, at the end of the day, getting a first with less effort may be a better option. It is what many students opt for!

Cantseethewoods Wed 31-May-17 13:44:27

Whether Mandarin is vital is another matter as 350 million Chinese people are learning English

You could say that about any language, in that most well educated people from non-English speaking countries can speak some, if not fluent, English. Otherwise they can only work in their own country, which is somewhat restrictive if you're (e.g.) Icelandic. I know a few westerners who are fluent in mandarin and their ability to do business in China is a lot better because they can access local media/ web sites/social media/ legal documents etc and really understand what's going on rather than the English summary. If we're talking practicalities, it's certainly going to be more useful than an in depth appreciation of the films of Francois Trufautt grin.

However, I was mainly alluding to your second point about the willingness to push oneself. I think from an employment perspective, not taking up another language would mark the candidate out as either lazy or risk/failure averse, unless they had some huge extra-curricular achievements to balance it. In my current and previous sectors (finance/ banking and international development) I'd interview anyone who could speak mandarin tbh because it's so rare and to do it they probably had to go and live in China for at least a year, so they're prepared to put themselves out there a bit.

AtiaoftheJulii Wed 31-May-17 14:13:40

Isn't there an option to study another language from scratch? Assuming she doesn't already speak mandarin, it seems a shame to pass that up if it's available

As bevelino mentioned an interview, I assumed Oxbridge, in which case I don't think you can add in Mandarin.

bojorojo Wed 31-May-17 15:29:37

That is correct. So unfortunately no Oxbridge linguists with Mandarin then! I wonder why not. I was being a bit flippant about how vital
Mandarin is but it appears Oxbridge distinguish between academic study and language acquisition. They would not see themselves as a training ground for business skills I suppose.

However there is Russian and Portuguese etc. I do think fluent speakers should be required to choose an ab initio language and it says a great deal more about them if they do because they have challenged themselves and not taken the easy route.

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