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The terror of the GCSE language oral

(15 Posts)
madamlala Tue 26-Apr-16 16:05:24

Was testing DD on French vocab last night, in advance of her GCSE. She has already done her oral and apparently it went ok although she was sick with nerves on the morning of it.

And why does just testing her make me feel a bit sweaty, my pulse quickens and I feel faintly nauseous? It's now well over 30 years since I did my French O level but I remember the agony of that oral like it was yesterday. Although I, of course, don't remember any of the French I used.

Every bit of French I now know (and use every couple of summers) has been learnt long after I did it as an O level.

My point/question is .... How much longer will we put these poor children through the agony of the French/Spanish oral? Can't they just do a written paper? And practise their ability to speak it in an altogether more realistic and relaxed atmosphere should they choose to later on?

TeenAndTween Tue 26-Apr-16 16:31:45

Well, I have to disagree. There's not much point learning a language if you can't speak it and have a conversation.

DD's GCSE orals last year involved preparing answers to known questions in advance, with only one 'unknown' (but guessable) question at the end. Now that does seem slightly pointless.

Today DD has had an oral for her MFL AS level. She knew the (wide ranging) topic in advance but not what she would have to talk about. Way more nerve wracking than the GCSE.

Yes it is scary, but I don't see how you can honestly give someone a qualification in an MFL if they can't speak it.

FishOn Tue 26-Apr-16 16:35:43

I also recall my French oral exam oh so very well grin

I remember thinking at the time that we did loads of reading, writing and listening in class but not enough actual speaking. I think that's the problem, lack of practice.

MillicentMargaretAmanda Tue 26-Apr-16 16:38:30

Totally agree with Teenandtween. Do we really want to go back to the bad old days of the o levels and a levels that my mother did where she got a B but barely had any conversational French?
I already think we've fallen massively behind where my GCSE was, where we had a whole range of subjects we'd have to converse on and didn't know what was going to be picked. And my A Level oral was 45 minutes long and worth 35% of my mark.
The vast majority of people learning a foreign language will primarily use it for speaking. Why are we not emphasising that skill so much more than we do?

Orac Tue 26-Apr-16 16:44:02

When I did mine in 1974 it was a genuine conversation in French. No prior knowledge of the topic.
When my DC did it in the last year or two they planned and learned it off by heart in advance then just repeated parrot fashion. It was a memory test not a language test.

ElinorRochdale Tue 26-Apr-16 16:59:58

At my O Level oral we had no idea what the topics would be. It was fairly basic stuff like 'what did you do in the holidays?' The examiner used one verb I didn't know, but guessed from the context. When I looked it up later I found I was right.

But that's the point, really. If you're having a genuine conversation, you don't know what's going to come up and you have to be prepared to handle it, whether by taking a guess or asking for clarification.

littledrummergirl Tue 26-Apr-16 17:14:05

At my gcse I had never had a mock oral, had no idea of what was going to happen, how it was supposed to work and I had never heard the language spoken properly before, only the teachers slow proper pronunciations and our clumsy efforts.
I had no idea of what I was being asked by the recording.
We had had a series of supply teachers in the months leading up to this though and my grade dropped from a predicted A to an E- my worst one.
Bitter? Much.

pippistrelle Tue 26-Apr-16 17:16:26

Also, not everyone is the same, and for some people the oral is the easier bit. Passing a modern language exam without actually speaking it seems to miss the point rather.

Everhopeful Tue 26-Apr-16 18:44:58

Not only do I think it's essential to test speaking (though I agree that not enough emphasis is put on that in teaching - lack of time, I guess), I'm not sure I'd put as much in the written. I too remember my O Level, where we had not a scooby doo what would be discussed - even if we had for my French, I'm pretty sure it would have been totally derailed by our joint chase after a wasp that had come in and I was finding it hard to follow her comments about that! It was a conversation, pure and simple. I saw the GCSE a few years ago and was appalled to see the extent of the guidance offered. Most of the kids could have passed it almost without the examiner being there, though it still stressed some, but exams always do: they're never nice really.

At A Level, I found that we still didn't speak it half as much as analyse (in English) foreign texts and I would have liked a greater emphasis on speaking there. To be fair, you can argue till the cows come home about the relative benefits of everyday conversational ability vs knowledge of the culture - it didn't make much difference to me, as I still love MFL. I'm assuming the OP's DD is in Y11, so this is too late for her, but there are a lot of EC sponsored aids to language learning, especially eTandem, which is a sort of go-between service to match you up with someone who speaks the language you want to learn and wants to learn yours. It's free, has a component for use by schools, and I've yet to find a secondary school that's heard of it. I currently have 5 partners in 3 languages through it.

ElinorRochdale Tue 26-Apr-16 19:51:22

I had never heard the language spoken properly before, only the teachers slow proper pronunciations

My school always had a French assistante (I don't remember it ever being a man) who I assumed was a student on a year abroad - they were always quite young. They took the O and A level classes for weekly French conversation lessons.

I remember one year the assistante was very stylish and attractive - very long hair and very short skirt. She was much admired by both girls and boys.

Sadik Tue 26-Apr-16 21:17:41

I do agree that it's really important to be able to speak. But . . . I'm with you, OP.

I still remember my O level German oral, 1980s, topic not known in advance. Mine was 'At the swimming pool' - and I couldn't think of a bloody thing to say about swimming pools in English, never mind German. Fortunately the examiner was lovely and asked leading questions until I came up with something to say!

IndridCold Tue 26-Apr-16 22:54:01

My point/question is .... How much longer will we put these poor children through the agony of the French/Spanish oral?

Well, that depends on whether you want your child to have an 'education' ( i.e. they actually have a working knowledge of a language after spending four years studying it) or a totally useless qualification.

madamlala Tue 26-Apr-16 23:47:23

All great comments and helpful too.
Having re-read my OP I can see how I gave the impression that speaking a language was a waste of time. Which is bonkers!
What I should have said was that for those who cannot wait to burn their French text books as soon as the exam is over (my DD!) I feel that oral is just adding to the pain - and is of such limited use.
She has a great memory so she just learnt her topics parrot fashion and regurgitated it on the day. She got an A* in her mocks by doing that. But she has very little understanding or confidence in actually speaking the language to a Frenchman as she has had no proper experience. And she was truly terrified.
So- she knows the rules, the verbs, how to conjugate, a few tenses etc. That sets her up to go and speak it in the future in a much more relaxed and real life environment.
But she, I expect, like me, will remember for many years the hideous ordeal of a GCSE oral!

MrsGuyOfGisbo Wed 27-Apr-16 10:29:55

I agree about the pain.
Id di a languages degree, and the lowest point of my life, more painful than childbirth was the anticipation of the oral, even though was fluent and had spent a year in that country.
No helped by the fact that my flaky boyf at eh time offered to give me a lift to campus, and then didn't - euphoria at having finished his, lost track of the time hmm so did not turn up and I frantic panicky dash up to arrive late.
I still have recurring nightmares about that.
(Years later that boyf found me on FB and came sniffing back around. No chance mate grin)
DS is doing two orals this week (two language) have already done another language oral last week.
Am cossetting him like he's unused to grin

pippistrelle Wed 27-Apr-16 10:59:12

I do get what you mean, OP. My degree is in French, so I studied it at school for five years, and at university for two years, and then went on a year long exchange thing, arriving in France to discover that I could barely understand anything that was going on. Well, I could get the gist, but finer points and detail were lost on me. I got my ear in quickly, but it was quite a bruising experience. Hearing people speak the language is essential, and seems often to be neglected in schools.

I have to say I still don't entirely feel comfortable speaking French in spite of spending about six weeks in France every year.

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