A level Spanish etc for bilingual kids whose mother tongues are English/Spanish

(98 Posts)
rattusrattus20 Tue 24-Sep-19 19:57:14

Apologies if this is a frequently asked question.

If you have kids who are Spanish near-bilingual (now aged 10), what are the chances that in 8 & a bit years' time a university is going to accept a [hopefully really good grade in] a Spanish A level as a valid pass when making offers? Are there any steps that could be taken [I'm not exactly talking about hiding their Spanish proficiency from the school but YKWIM] now to increase the chances that the A levels would be accepted?

OP’s posts: |
seasidequayside Tue 24-Sep-19 20:43:19

A German friend of dd's did German A level and got into Manchester with her grade accepted. I know there was a London uni (possibly UCL or LSE) that she couldn't apply to because they wouldn't accept a native language A level, but I'm not sure if there were any others.

I can't see what steps you could take now to hide your dc's ability to speak Spanish wink. You might find your dc has no interest in taking Spanish A level when the time comes, but it's still a valuable skill and, depending on the course, could be useful for the personal statement.

Propertyfaux Tue 24-Sep-19 20:50:30

It is university dependant and also what you class as native language. A friends DC who is German but her DD has fathers British name took A level German but her school reference commented on her bilingual abilities and connection. Her favourite university wanted AAA from her instead of the usual AAB.

SirTobyBelch Tue 24-Sep-19 20:59:13

Why do you need to know this now? In six years' time, when she/he is/they are choosing A-level subjects, you'll be able to get a much better idea of which way the wind is blowing.

At present, universities are advised to treat all language A-levels equally to avoid jumping to conclusions about students' first/second-language status, e.g. by guessing from their names. However, there is a great deal of concern about falling numbers of students taking modern-language A-levels. Non-native speakers are reluctant to take them because the grade boundaries are pushed so high by the performance of native speakers. Unless some way can be found to avoid deterring non-native speakers, the very low rates of uptake of modern-language study at A-level and beyond will continue to get worse. It is possible, therefore, that something will be done about native language qualifications being considered on the same basis as second-language ones, but it's impossible to predict this far ahead.

Fozzleyplum Tue 24-Sep-19 21:01:02

Apparently, 50% of the students who get A* in German A Level are native, or near-native speakers, usually not disclosed as such. A number of university language depts wrote to Ofqual recently to complain, if I remember correctly, that this was putting off students who were not native speakers, from taking the language as it was suppressing grades.

I wonder if that might make it more likely that native speakers are required to declare their level of proficiency in future, in light if those representations.

At recent open days with DS, who is off to uni next week to study modern foreign languages, we noticed there were parents, usually mothers (so probably the candidates' surnames were not a giveaway) at the q&a sessions, who had an accent that matched the language being offered.

Fozzleyplum Tue 24-Sep-19 21:06:34

Cross post with Sir Toby. I might add that at a couple of the ( v prestigious) universities in question, the odd wry comment was made about this by some of the academics. They clearly don't like it, not least because it is affecting applicant numbers, so I expect it will be clamped down on in the future.

FluffytheGoldfish Tue 24-Sep-19 23:09:23

A friend of my dd was told by one university that they would not count her A level (or it might have been Advanced Higher) in Mandarin as it was her was her native language, she was particularly annoyed as the language spoken at home was Cantonese. (She was not planning on studying languages and did not end up needing it)


Bezalelle Tue 24-Sep-19 23:13:19

But knowing Cantonese would give her an advantage at Mandarin. They're not a million miles apart.

FluffytheGoldfish Wed 25-Sep-19 07:31:41

ISorry I was not as clear as I me t to be, when I edited my post I deleted too much. What I meant to include was that that yes native speakers are being penalised by some universities(she applied to 3 Scottish and 2 English universities and was only told this by one) , but also a comment on the assumptions being made due to a name. Another issue she had was some Scottish University's would not count A level /Advanced Higher as she had already passed Higher so they were looking for a different subject.

fussychica Wed 25-Sep-19 09:53:22

DS studied Bachillerato, rather than A levels, in Spain so was fluent in the language. He took a multi language degree at a UK university. When he was applying Bath was the only place that came straight out and told him they wouldn't accept him for anything including Spanish. I thought this was pretty harsh. This was 8 years ago so things may have changed.

fussychica Wed 25-Sep-19 09:55:40

That sounds like they wouldn't consider him for any degree. I actually meant one which included Spanish as a module/main subject area.

berlinbabylon Wed 25-Sep-19 10:39:26

50% of the students who get A in German A Level are native, or near-native speakers, usually not disclosed as such*

That means 50% are not. I got an A at German with no family connections at all (in the days before A stars). There was a girl in my class whose mum was German, she didn't seem to be much better than we were, I don't actually know if she got an A. This all seems to be a non-issue to me. DS is doing Spanish A level with no family connections and I expect him to do well.

I can't really see the difference between having a German mum and a mum who's a physics lecturer at the local uni and you doing Physics A level. You are still going to have a massive advantage. And I don't suppose that gets disclosed on a school reference because they often won't know what parents do for a living.

I think unis should take things as they are and not second guess what advantages people may have. Even if you live in an affluent post code treating you as being affluent and therefore not deserving of a contextual offer is a blunt instrument, there are food bank users everywhere.

rattusrattus20 Wed 25-Sep-19 10:50:49

Thanks, there are some great responses on here, food for thought.

Re: the proportion of A* German A level passes awarded to semi-native speakers, I'd be astonished, TBH, if it was as low as 50%.

(1) There were 3,000 people who sat it in 2019, and 13% [so roughly 400] A* passes (http://www.bstubbs.co.uk/a-lev.htm).

(2) There are about 300,000 German born people [some of whom will have married other Germans, some of whom won't] living in the UK (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germans_in_the_United_Kingdom)... so assuming that people live for say 90 years on average, there were in 2019 well over 3,000 18 yr olds who had at least one German born parent. Why wouldn't say 10% of those kids have managed to score an A* in A level German?

OP’s posts: |
Trewser Wed 25-Sep-19 10:55:36

Non-native speakers are reluctant to take them because the grade boundaries are pushed so high by the performance of native speakers this is why dd won't take French. It saddens me, as she's really good at it.

Fozzleyplum Wed 25-Sep-19 11:32:53

Berlin, I see a significant difference. We are talking about fair comparisons in relation to a subject which is tested and graded on the assumption that it has been learned as a second, non-native language.A candidate who learned German alongside English because that was the language spoken at home from birth, is going to have an advantage that was not intended by the exam boards. A pupil who has support at home because their parent happens to teach the subject does have some advantage, but it is not the same.

Fozzleyplum Wed 25-Sep-19 11:36:44

And of course not all parents with English as a second language, speak it at home. I was at school with a girl whose mother was German. She could swear in German (as could I - she used to give me a lift!), but she was not taught German at home.

Fifthtimelucky Wed 25-Sep-19 12:14:37

I understand that there are two different versions of the Welsh GCSE: one for native speakers and for others. Presumably it wouldn't be impossible to do the same for other languages.

I think for languages like French, Spanish and German, that have traditionally been taught in this country, the assumption is that native speakers make up a small proportion of the total number of entries, so make little difference. As the number of entries is falling, that is perhaps changing. Entries will presumably continue to fall further if those like Trewser's daughter decide not to take language A levels because of these concerns.

I suspect that for less common languages, the proportion of native speakers is even higher. In 2018 8.3% of all A level entries were awarded A*s and 18.5% were awarded As. For Russian, the equivalent figures were 35.5% and 53.8%. It is possible that the average A level Russian student is much cleverer and/or hardworking than the average A level student, or that the teaching of Russian A level is much higher than the teaching of other subjects. However, I bet that the proportion of A level students who are native Russian speakers was very high.

Trewser Wed 25-Sep-19 12:15:52

5 girls took Russian A level at dds school. They were all Russian. As and A*s.

Propertyfaux Wed 25-Sep-19 12:50:00

It’s not just a problem at A level, both my DCs had to take a language but their school is now allowing pupils to drop and substitute the subject for another whilst at the same time offering more choice in types of language. I do think being bilingual should be awarded but there is unintended consequences. The percentages can be nothing more than guess work, DCs bilingual friends count English as their native language.

Fozzleyplum Wed 25-Sep-19 12:51:26

The "native speaker advantage" also put DS2 off taking French as his third A Level, as he is not looking at modern languages for university and will need at least 3 As.

Trewser Wed 25-Sep-19 12:53:53

Dd is in the same position fozzley

SoonerthanIthought Wed 25-Sep-19 16:51:05

"*Apparently, 50% of the students who get A* in German A Level are native, or near-native speakers, usually not disclosed as such*

There was an Ofqual study into this recently, which I think found that nearly 20% of German A level candidates were native speakers (relying on school info so not 'checked.) So if 50% of A star candidates were native or near native speakers, that suggests it is quite an advantage. (or that the native speakers are on average brighter/harder working/better taught - no reason to suppose that is the case.)

I think the result was that exam boards were allowed to lower the grade boundaries a bit for German (and possibly also Spanish and French - can't remember?) to try to redress the balance - I'm not sure I understand how it does that!

I have heard anecdotally that somestudents (and parents) are now avoiding mfl A levels for precisely this reason. Whether they're right or wrong to do so - it does seem to be a cause for concern that affects people's choices. And the problem of defining and identifying who is or isn't a native or near native speaker is, basically, pretty insoluble!

Fozzleyplum Wed 25-Sep-19 17:17:56

Here is one of the articles I read. DS1's tutors and HOD are signatories and were talking about the problem at the offer-holder day that we attended.

Fozzleyplum Wed 25-Sep-19 17:28:21

....and here's the article with the A* stats.

lesstressy Wed 25-Sep-19 17:44:18

My DC was a talented linguist and keen to do an MFL A level but was put off for exactly this reason. Someone in her class, a native speaker with a French mother so not obvious from the surname, chose French as one of their three A levels with the intention of applying for MFL at Oxbridge. My DC couldn't see how they could possibly compete and chose another subject at which they could aim for (and achieved) A*.

Thirty years ago when I did A levels MFL was far more literature-based, more akin to English Literature A level but in the target language. I think that will be the only way to level the playing field a bit as I can't see many children (or their parents) wanting to admit to having family who are native speakers to their own disadvantage. Integrity as a character trait seems to be dying out.
My DC has no regrets about their decision and thinks that they would not be at the uni they are now if they had risked taking an MFL A level.

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