Cainntear wrote:DaveAgain wrote:There has been an issue with grade inflation in british exams. Perhaps language exams are tied to Council of Europe standards, so more resistant to pressures to make them easier?
They're only sort-of linked to the CEFR, and it's only lip-service. Certainly, there's no equivalence between language exams in different countries -- an English exam for 16-year-olds in Germany is going to cover significantly more language than a German exam in the UK, because standards are higher.
I would say the problem is more down to the teaching methods. We've messed around with so many theories of learning that we've just thrown out everything that works. I'm not a high-school teacher, but I once taught some French to high-school aged children using books aimed at schools. They followed a wishy-washy sort-of-immersion-but-not-quite (because immersion clearly doesn't work outside of intensive settings) where prompts were written in French, but the kids tended not to understand the prompts, instead relying on experience from previous exercises and other clues as to how to complete the tasks. Each individual task type had so few individual tasks that by the time the kids really understood what the task was (and I had verified that they understood), there was maybe one question left to practice on. For this to work, all the tasks had to be necessarily lightweight. I didn't feel like the kids were learning as much as they could have.
Another element that makes teaching languages harder is the insistence on "teach the subject, not the exam". It's maddening. If you ask what sort of vocabulary to teach, they say "vocabulary appropriate to their level". If you ask what grammar to teach, they say "grammar appropriate to their level". If you ask what is appropriate to their level, they say "use your judgement as a teacher" (even to trainee teachers!!! On my CELTA course, before I'd taught any lessons professionally, one of the trainers answered a question with "use your judgement as a teacher"). This leads most teachers to do the opposite thing -- when the subject is poorly defined, the thing you can most concretely help with is exam technique...!
Even tying the curriculum to CEFR doesn't help. Officially, the Maturita (Czech high school leaving exam) contains B1 language exams (you have 12-13 subjects until the end of high school, you take the final exam in four). Hahahaha. Even if we look away from the fact that B1 for 10 years of classes is really not much at all, the exam is simply not at the level. I've seen model videos of people who'd pass. No, presenting yourself in a very basic way and parroting a few set phrases is not B1. And the test is not B1 either.
"Teach the subject not the exam" vs. "what good are my skills, if I don't get the grade" dillema is a huge part of the problem and in more ways than just what Cainntear very well describes. The students and parents (and truth be told the schools too) want the exam preparation. Because the grade is the single most important thing about having the subject at school. Real knowledge is gotten elsewhere (self study, private classes, immersion stays,anything). The grade is what you want, the grade is what matters to the universities. There is nothing wrong with wanting to know what is expected from you, and how to get the grade you want.
Yes, the coursebooks for schools are a huge part of the problem. The hybrid between the immersion method (which is worthless in the classical setting of 3 or 4 hours a week) and the grammar method (grammar is now not being taught much at all until a certain age, when you are suddenly expected to know it. I know, because I have siblings in that age category). And truth be told, I blame the ESL industry. The English coursebooks were the first to come with this approach, with exactly the problems that you describe. They looked so beautiful and fun compared to the old books, nobody stopped to think about advantages we might be losing. The change happened sometime during my childhood, I remember it. Today's coursebooks are a curse for anybody wishing to practice with the child at home, to help them prepare for tests, or to really progress. Because there is no clear progress. The kids are discouraged by this lack of progress too.
I am not surprised the British children are taking less and less German classes. Even the Czech children are taking them less and less often, cause everybody is being brainwashed that "English is the most important language and everything else is secondary". Well, tell that to all those unemployed people near the borders, who are unable to just take the German job behind the border or work with the German clients in our country, and instead have worthless basic English skills. No wonder the native English speaking children see even less value in German.
German is also suffering from tons of "it is such a hard language" myths. Perhaps, if the schools were less focused on discouraging the children, many more would actually try and succeed.
An interesting point I had no clue about was the generation change. If the German teachers are being replaced by the Spanish teachers, it is part of the problem too. But perhaps the German speaking countries should care more. I've read about young native Spanish teachers being send to high schools abroad to 1.gain experience 2.share the native point of view 3.as a motivation source for those students abroad. We all know about the Konfucius Institute. China pays Mandarin teachers for universities, who also have political assignments (yes, it really happens. A friend of mine experienced it this year). France is trying to face the issue of lower popularity of the language, even though not too efficiently. Germany doesn't seem to be as invested in this sort of PR as many others. Just waiving the "we're so rich" flag is simply not enough anymore.