Languages in Schools

GermanyIt was in the news this week that Modern Foreign Languages in Britain are in crisis. Specifically at A-Level. 18 years ago, 22,000 people took French A-Level and last year the figure was down to 10,000. That is a staggering statistic, and purveyors of language have every right to be concerned.

I’m not sure what specifically is to blame for this drop but I certainly think the way languages are taught in school should be looked at.

I’d like to think that I was suitably equipped to discuss this subject, as it was less than 5 years ago that I was studying for my own German A-Level. I dedicated two years of my life to the course, and yet I left school not really been able to speak German. I wasn’t a bad student. Far from it. In fact, if you could forgive my arrogance for a second, I was a good student. I did everything that was asked of me to a decent standard, and did very well in my exams.

German in schoolSo let’s just take stock of that for a second, I passed my German A-Level with flying colours, and yet couldn’t really speak German. Does that strike anyone else as utterly ridiculous? Ok, I’m being a tad hyperbolic. I could string some sentences together, I had a decent enough understanding of the grammar, I knew some vocab, but I couldn’t “speak German”. I was certainly a long way from being fluent.

This frustrated me greatly. In fact, it was this frustration that led me to buy my first Rosetta Stone course (I’ve actually mentioned this before in my first ever blog.) Within a month or so of the course, I had learnt considerably more German than the whole of my A-Level. I’d be lying if I said that having advance knowledge of some of the words and grammar didn’t help a little – it did. But I’ve since gone on to do the French course (of which I had no prior knowledge at all!) and have seen a similar successes in similarly short periods of time.

At the time, I remember being annoyed that this software was teaching me a language so effectively, and yet I’d “wasted” (for want of a better word) two years doing an A-Level. Fast forward to a year later, and I’d consider myself nearly fluent in German. I’ve got another level to go, and still plenty to learn, but I am 100% confident that if I were to move to Germany now, I wouldn’t need to use any English whatsoever. This fluency is 90% down to my Rosetta Stone course, and 10% down to my German A-Level.

And there lies the problem. I think the education system seems to have lost sight of why we’re teaching a language in the first place. Isn’t the point of an A-Level in a language to give you the ability to speak it? It seems to me that schools are teaching students to pass a German A-Level, rather than to speak German. Without getting too political, it seems that the number of people that pass the exam is more important than the number of people that learn the skill. I’d like to mention here that this is in no way a criticism of individual teachers, in fact, it was my German teacher that ignited my love of language, so I have a lot to thank him for.

I’ve found learning a language with Rosetta Stone an incredibly rewarding experience. The progress you make, the sense of pride and achievement you get when conversing with a native speaker. It really is a great buzz. This is definitely missing from the A-Level syllabus.

You’ll have to forgive this sounding like a Rosetta Stone sales pitch, but when I think of the hours I spent sat in my German lessons at school, compared with the hours I’ve sat at my laptop learning with Rosetta Stone, there really is no comparison.

Sam works in Marketing Communications in the automotive industry. She has a passion for language and is currently learning German, Spanish and French. When she’s not working or language learning, Sam enjoys skiing lessons, baking (and eating!), traveling the world with her husband and tweeting. Once she’s got to grips with a few European languages, Sam hopes to try her hand at Mandarin.

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