The Teaching Schools Council has published a review claiming that a lack of conversational vocabulary and every day subject matter could be to blame for the drop in numbers of students taking GCSE in a Modern Foreign Language.
The Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy Review claims “There is some evidence that weak vocabulary teaching is a major part of the low standards achieved by many British pupils. A consequence of not attending to frequency of occurrence in vocabulary choice is pupils realising that they cannot say or understand basic things in the language.”
The report highlights that less than 50% of GCSE pupils choose a language despite it’s recommendation that “the vast majority of young people” should in fact study a language to GCSE level. It believes that changing the content of courses to be more conversational and engaging for students would encourage more students to continue studying a language.
Then aim of the report is to offer guidance to teacher at Secondary level and makes specific reference to teaching, claiming that in some cases it can be too specialised as it is limited to certain topicss e.g. “environment” or “free-time activities”. This limitation by themes can result in pupils believing they don’t actually understand the basics of conversation in the language and this de-motivates them and makes them feel that they aren’t progressing with their learning.
Ian Bauckham who led the review called the situation a “crisis” saying “Currently fewer than half of pupils take a GCSE in a language and only one-third of pupils achieve a good GCSE grade in a language. Without concerted action, languages in our schools are at risk, and may become confined to certain types of school and certain sections of the pupil population.”
Mr Bauckham also highlighted concerns about schools reducing language teaching due to falling numbers. Indeed there is evidence of this locally with some Secondary schools limiting options for languages at GCSE. In some cases they no longer offer language courses at A-level.
Another concern is the link between Secondary and Primary teaching. Introducing languages at Primary level, will hopefully increase enthusiasm for language learning at a later stage. However, the report suggests secondary schools need a better knowledge of the level that children are attaining at primary age, to avoid repetition when they join start secondary school.