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Blimey : MFL A levels have changed

(135 Posts)
Piggywaspushed Mon 16-Oct-17 19:44:22

Disclaimer : went to school in Scotland in the late Middle Ages.

I studied French and German as CSYS level (kind of like A2) and got As so considered myself good. But what my DS is doing now is really turning him off. we did three lit texts in French and German (this may have been more than we needed knowing my school!) and some history (German was east Germany and education , I remember; French I think was the resistance) But all our teaching was basically in English, certainly all our discussion of texts and I SWEAR we wrote essays in English!

DS can't even seem to learn grammar in peace now without it being related to some 'ishoo' and even his homework is set in detailed Spanish.

I know this is all very worthy - but it's no wonder kids talk about the gulf between GCSE and A level in MFL!

DS already dropped French after one week. He can't drop Spanish, not least because he got near as dammit full marks at GCSE. You wouldn't know it, though. He is really struggling, hates it and is now being supervised in free periods to force him to work...blush there is no shame emoji so I went for blushing...

The teaching isn't great either, which does not help. Boys definitely respond negatively to weaker teaching much more than girls ime.

Anyone else share my his suffering?

noblegiraffe Mon 16-Oct-17 19:49:17

I wrote my lit essays in English for A-level French and German but I know my school chose those exam boards because of it, and that other exam boards wanted their essays in the target language. We also read one of the texts in English (and watched the film!) because we ran out of time and just learned key quotes. Not necessarily the best teaching!

LIZS Mon 16-Oct-17 19:51:06

Sympathy. Dd is taking two mfl and was very quickly keen to drop German but was advised it will get better if she sticks at it. It doesn't help that she is now in small groups with pupils who seem fluent, so no longer feels at the top of the class.

marialuisa Mon 16-Oct-17 19:56:45

I think DD must be lucky as although there's been a bit of a vocab slog she's enjoying her two MFL A levels. I expected her to find the step,up much harder as her MFL GCSEs were a joke but so far so good. She has Eduqas for one and AQA for the other so maybe there's a difference between exam boards?

Piggywaspushed Mon 16-Oct-17 20:13:25

Yes, the fluent thing put him off in French. In the first lesson the teacher yacked away in continual French to native speakers/ bilingual students. It's no wonder DS felt a bit intimidated!

He's doing AQA Spanish. Lots of stuff about divorce at the moment and the Catholic Church which I am sure he has many opinions on...

Piggywaspushed Mon 16-Oct-17 20:15:05

I'm surprised the homework isn't more vocab learning tbh. Most of it seems to be applying in context rather than rote learning and I think he would rather just learn verb tables than apply them to discussion of Catholicism.

roundaboutthetown Mon 16-Oct-17 22:13:34

Surely it's a bit weird to expect to do a MFL A-level without writing essays in the language and speaking in the language?! It sounds like they have launched too quickly into this, though, rather than building up to it after a proper transition from the GCSE. It's only been half a term, after all! What you would expect by the end of the two years is not what you should be expecting at the start.

Piggywaspushed Mon 16-Oct-17 22:22:39

I think his teacher is unqualified very inexperienced and , yes, she has launched into it too quickly...

As I said, I didn't write lit type essays in the language back in the day. I knew they did these days but did think as you say it would be more gradual...

His hw is to write an essay on abortion, homosexuality and marriage! A whole essay! He couldn't do that in English!!

clary Mon 16-Oct-17 22:39:43

Sorry OP it's bobbins isn't it.

The gap is so so bad for this year's Yr12 (and last years's too) because they did the old style GCSE with all the crapola Controlled assessment memorising.

The new style GCSE with translations and essays in TL is much better prep - not that that helps your DS (or my yr 12 DD!).

I did four books for MFL A levels (1980s) and yes, wrote about them in English. But writing in TL is surely much better? I think so. My A level was more like Eng lit but reading French books. We even read one book in translation as it was so so hard in German! Not great! (reads thread; spots that Noble went to my school grin)

Ereshkigal Mon 16-Oct-17 22:43:39

I had to write in the target language in my MFL A levels in the 90s. Not hugely long essays though, about 500 words.

GU24Mum Mon 16-Oct-17 23:08:29

clary I must have done my French A level about the same time as you too! We wrote language essays in French but lit ones in English. I definitely remember tedious amounts of essays on smoking etc. In fact I''m pretty sure most of the literature part of my degree involved essays written in English!

Pythonesque Tue 17-Oct-17 06:16:39

I'm disappointed for my niece who has just started 3 yr GCSEs in year 9 - she's dropped French already (no other languages) - why? When her parents asked at a parent-teacher evening what they did for those whose parents didn't speak French they had nothing to offer and no interest. For GCSE! A real shame.

allegretto Tue 17-Oct-17 06:21:46

Why do the parents have to speak French?

allegretto Tue 17-Oct-17 06:25:06

Gu24 - I had the same experience. I can remember learning lots of quotes in French to work into my essays somehow in the exam! The French language essays make sense - how else can they show that they can write French without writing it?

Piggywaspushed Tue 17-Oct-17 07:18:04

I'm not sure I agree that the lit essays need to be written in the TL : surely what they are showing is an appreciation of lit , having read it in the language? Does it not lead to a load more rote learning? I teach film studies and I must say the film questions in French A level are not really any different from the actual A level film studies questions!

But it is what it is. My DS's GCSE results weren't great but he has always done well in MFL so had to take them really. there isn't a huge choice of A levels at his school. I honestly thought he would be OK with an A* but you are right: he got there by being very very good at rote learning (pity he didn't apply it to other subjects!) and having lots of lesson time to do precisely that.

Not everyone who does MFL at A level goes on to use it beyond school but that had been his original plans : sadly, not now so now he is left with no clue about his future.

For those who want to play let's compare : I did Katharina Blum, Biedermann und die Brandstifter (loved!) and Die Neue Leiden des Jungen W in German A level and Baudelaire (pervy!) , La Peste and Rhinoceros in French. I really enjoyed the lit. It was always going to be his sticking point but I am hopeful for the film. He doesn't know what film he is doing, though, which is annoying me.

Piggywaspushed Tue 17-Oct-17 07:18:43

I will keep hold of the idea that he has two years to get there! smile

allegretto Tue 17-Oct-17 08:08:20

I did Mérimée's Colomba - lots of swashbuckling which our teacher acted out. grin Molière - Le Malade Imaginaire and, I think, Racine's Phèdre - but I might be mixing that up with what I studied at uni.

I agree that the lit essays should be in English but the language ones in French - I don't think they mind so much what your opinion is on smoking/the environment etc -it's more a chance to show that you can argue effectively in a foreign language.

I don't know what the situation is like now but I think the problem for us was that lot of GCSE teaching was done by rote - learn these phrases to use in a café, for example whereas by A-level it was expected that we knew how the language and grammar actually worked! That is one of the reasons why I gave up German - at GCSE my teacher didn't teach us the cases (pretty important for German!) as we could (and did) get top marks for memorising useful phrases. This didn't work for a-level though!

MissWimpyDimple Tue 17-Oct-17 08:10:40


MissWimpyDimple Tue 17-Oct-17 08:13:03


I did a MFL in the late 80s, early 90s at gcse a level and degree level.

The A level was BY FAR the hardest stage. The expectation to write complicated literary critique in the target language was so so hard.

The teaching was also very very poor and by two British blokes.

In the end I got an A, but I think that was a bit of a miracle.

EBearhug Tue 17-Oct-17 08:13:13

I did A-levels in 1990, and I am still a bit bitter that we didn't have any lit at all for French.

Piggywaspushed Tue 17-Oct-17 08:13:28

I agree allegretto about the issues with GCSE. very frustrating. It also devalues Spanish and French results in my DS's head : and he is a glass half empty type anyway : so when we tell him how amazingly he did in Spanish and French GCSEs he just dismisses it.

2014newme Tue 17-Oct-17 08:17:02

I was in the first school year that did gcse French. Before we started on the a level work our teacher spent a term getting us to o level standard as the gulf between gcse and A level is vast. Gcse is easy, it's just about getting your point across. A level is a whole different ball game.

However I don't agree with your sweeping generalisation that boys respond worse to poor teaching than girls. What nonsense!

Eolian Tue 17-Oct-17 08:19:32

Essays used to be in English, but that's pretty daft really, isn't it? I somehow doubt that students in France and Germany were writing their English essays in French or German.

It's not the teacher's fault anyway. They have to stick to the syllabus. I did a highly literary MFL degree, but I really don't think a heavily lit-based syllabus does most A Level students any favours and would turn many off. The current syllabus includes some literature but it's an option.

I'm surprised you object to teaching grammar combined with topic stuff. That's pretty standard right through from KS3 and has been for a looong time. It seems perfectly sensible to me that you would use the vocabulary from the topic you're doing to frame grammar practice sentences etc.

Piggywaspushed Tue 17-Oct-17 08:25:28

I don't object to it per se but DS does. he is what I would call a 'pure' linguist. he likes the nuts and bolts of grammar and isn't too interested in people. to me, though, attaching grammar to topics does make it a bit drip feedy .

You are not correct that lit is an option : al the MFL teachers at my school are bewailing that they can no longer 'just' doa film. they have to do either 2 lit texts now - or a lit text and a film.

I am quite sure when German students read Dickens in English, they discuss it in German actually!

Piggywaspushed Tue 17-Oct-17 08:27:59

I think I don't have an overview of his topics : this is what is frustrating me. He just seems to have started at the front of an A Level textbook : and I am assuming they don't do all the topics.

I wish teachers would give students outlines of what they will study as specifications can be unwieldy and obviously include a paradigm from which choices are made. But it may well be the teacher hasn't made some decision yet, of course.

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