UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

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Cavesa
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Re: UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

Postby Cavesa » Mon Jan 27, 2020 12:23 pm

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.
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Re: UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

Postby Cavesa » Mon Jan 27, 2020 12:46 pm

MrPenguin wrote:In my experience, non-English foreign languages are taught using the exact same methods as English here in Norway. And even so, outcomes for languages other than English are just as miserable as they are for foreign languages in anglophone countries.

The difference is exposure in daily life. English is virtually ubiquitous in the entertainment sector, as well as in the sciences (and thus in higher education), so naturally, people pick up on that and prioritise it. Other languages do not have that same advantage. And obviously, no foreign language has that kind of advantage in the US or the UK or whatever, so it only makes sense for outcomes to be poor.

Without a special interest in the subject, people don't successfully learn foreign languages unless they feel they have to. It just doesn't happen. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if mandatory foreign language instruction isn't just a complete waste of time.


Yes, the differences between English and the non-English languages are huge everywhere. For various reasons:
-the governments and schools do this themselves. The amount of hours for other languages is being lowered, some types of schools offer only one language without any choice, and so on. The required level to achieve is different.
-the public image of English being the only thing you need (which is by far not true)
-because of that belief, the parents are much more willing to pay for extra English classes, extra English immersion stays, and all that stuff.
-the children are more motivated to learn in spite of their teachers
-and then there is the whole English entertainment world that the teens arrive into. English simply has the best marketing.

Mandatory classes are not a complete waste of time. They give an opportunity to start, to find out what it is about, and to teach something those, who have no means to get real education elsewhere. But unfortunately, they come with too many downsides.

Cainntear wrote:
Speakeasy wrote:Course manuals -- once called textbooks -- no longer contain much in the way of textual information and are now evaluated on the basis of the “engaging/stimulating” multi-coloured photographs (including lots of blank space) that they offer the student.

That one really gets my goat. I remember years ago reading a critique of textbook layout saying that the guiding principle of "make it look like what kids read in their leisure time" was utterly wrong. What kids read back then was magazines, and magazines are not designed to be read linearly -- you browse around until something catches your eye, start reading it, then if you lose interest before the end, you wander off and read something else. This is, of course, not what you want in a classroom. I read this before I started teaching English, and I saw it for myself in the classroom in my first year -- trying to keep kids looking at the task I wanted was really difficult. Some of them would end up reading the grammar explanation from the next day's lesson instead of answering the question, messing up the plan for 2 lessons in one go.

Things are better now, as magazines are mostly dead, so kid's textbooks aren't modelled directly on them, but there are still many sidebars that confuse the reading order, and while I mostly work with adults, I'd say there isn't a single kids class I've gone into where I haven't had kids reading ahead on language points when they're supposed to be completing exercises and then getting bored when I go to teach them the language point as planned.


Yes, exactly. This is a very good description. But some of the books don't even have those side bars. The kids are supposed to just absorb everything by immersion, but that is simply impossible with the given amount of classes and tiny amount of material in their book.

The focus on making kids feel as if they were having fun and not learning is counter productive. The children don't go to school to have fun. They are not traumatised by learning, they hate other aspects of the experience. It is actually normal to be curious. They want to see some results. Some want a grade as the result, the wiser ones want to really learn something. And when they have absolutely no clue whether or not they progress, they get discouraged. That's why it is totally natural for them to just skip the sauce and read that side bar, because it actually looks like learning. After all, doesn't a large part of the forum do the same thing?
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Re: UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

Postby Montmorency » Wed Nov 04, 2020 6:54 pm

The other side of the coin of Cavesa's point about the myth of German being difficult is the seductive myth that Spanish is easy.

I've heard language teachers say that Spanish is an easy language to learn to speak badly. I'm sure there is at least a grain of truth in that.

It may be a banal point, but I think by and large more UK families take their holidays in Spain or its islands than in German speaking countries, and so children might quite naturally see more point in learning Spanish than German.

In the mid-1990s I was a parent-governor at my daughter's state comprehensive school. At the time, they taught French and German. They liked governors to be "attached" to departments, and I got myself attached to the Language Department. Very interesting it was too, although I unfortunately found myself involved in timetable battles with the Science Department, which was quite invidious since I thought and think science to be equally important. But it was a serious problem for those children (or their parents) who wanted to continue two languages to GCSE level. (I think the rules at that time mandated 2 languages in Year 7, but allowed students to drop 1 language from year 8 onwards).

As well as time-tabling, staffing was also a problem. As I think Cainntear has stated, teachers applying for posts in UK schools are expected to offer 2 languages, and in those days, it was normally French and German. I was very supportive of German (was actively learning it myself at the time), but also thought the school should broaden its appeal and offer Spanish and maybe even Italian (" you may say I'm a dreamer..." :-) ). The headteacher cut my dreams down to size by saying that it would pose him an impossible staffing situation, especially in those days of education cuts (when do we not have education spending cuts....). Although I didn't want to, I could eventually see his point.

As someone has I think said, by now a lot of the "old" German teachers will have retired, and no doubt have been replaced by Spanish teachers in many schools (I'm not close to any schools now, so I don't know the reality). The converse problem would now exist for schools currently offering French and Spanish, who might want to (against all the odds) think about offering German.
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Re: UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

Postby cpnlsn88 » Thu Nov 12, 2020 12:12 am

All I will say is this is a pity, a shame. Many are the ties that have created German speaking and learning in Britain - religion. sciences, literature, monarchy, the arts. So it's a shame to lose this aspect. Nevertheless there's a deeper malaise in language learning in the UK. Though sad to lose our footing in German there is a general difficulty in language learning per se. Arguing over Spanish or French (or German) is a secondary issue when there is so little learning of languages all around us - be it Polish, Welsh or Urdu. And then Mandarin, Japanese.

I do favour making languages at school easier. At no point in history have people left school with a really good level of foreign language but there is virtually no limit to what can be achieved with comprehensible input where needed.

For my money languages would be about the competency of learning languages so you can learn on your own if needed. I think, if nothing else one should have experience of reading a different script (or two). The whole thing should be easier and enjoyable

Language learning, like teaching of the classics, seem in long term decline in the UK. A new concept is n needed.
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Re: UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

Postby DaveAgain » Thu Nov 12, 2020 8:24 am

cpnlsn88 wrote:I do favour making languages at school easier. At no point in history have people left school with a really good level of foreign language but there is virtually no limit to what can be achieved with comprehensible input where needed.

For my money languages would be about the competency of learning languages so you can learn on your own if needed. I think, if nothing else one should have experience of reading a different script (or two). The whole thing should be easier and enjoyable

Language learning, like teaching of the classics, seem in long term decline in the UK. A new concept is n needed.
GCSE's map to A2, that's not a high level after 4-6(?) years of education. I think the problem is that people really need to want to learn whatever language they're studying to be successful, and foreign languages are not really necessary for many people in the UK, and ever less so as English appears to be the default L2 for all non-English speaking countries' education systems.

Perhaps the UK's digital TV service will have an effect? You can get a lot of German language media on your TV now via Arte and Channel 4's catch up apps.

Brexit might make German language qualifications more valuable in the job market too, if UK employers are no longer able fill vacancies by recruiting native speakers.
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Re: UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

Postby ninuno » Fri Nov 20, 2020 6:05 am

English native speakers don't want to learn any foreign languages . in the US and the UK everyone just takes Spanish after tired hours of History or Physics to pass time and fill requirements.

French and German are quite demanding and somewhat classic languages, then it gets even more demanding and even less incentive to learn a language like Russian and Arabic , then Chinese and Japanese seem a bit nerdy and too exotic for most in the west , and the rest are only for special niches .
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Re: UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

Postby Lemus » Sat Nov 21, 2020 11:53 pm

ninuno wrote:English native speakers don't want to learn any foreign languages . in the US and the UK everyone just takes Spanish after tired hours of History or Physics to pass time and fill requirements.

French and German are quite demanding and somewhat classic languages, then it gets even more demanding and even less incentive to learn a language like Russian and Arabic , then Chinese and Japanese seem a bit nerdy and too exotic for most in the west , and the rest are only for special niches .


That's a pretty broad brush with which to paint several hundred million people with.

In the US at least the reason why most people take Spanish is 1) it's generally what's offered (not a whole lot of schools have the resources to offer that many languages) and 2) it's clearly the most practical for the average student in terms of what they can use in their daily life and/or career.

I think it's pretty harsh to fault American students for not taking Russian or Arabic given that virtually no high schools offer them.

I have been in American foreign languages classes and you get a mix. Some people are clearly there indeed to fill requirements. Others work hard and excel solely so they can get the good grades. And others genuinely enjoyed being there.

The main difference between English speakers and non-English speakers when it comes to foreign languages is the basic truth that you can get pretty far in the modern world speaking just English even if you work internationally. If tomorrow French was the global lingua franca I have no doubt Americans would start making French an educational priority. As long as they are a "nice to have" rather than an essential though, foreign languages will remain a lower priority in the United States.
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Re: UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

Postby LunaMoonsilver » Sun Nov 22, 2020 12:53 am

ninuno wrote:English native speakers don't want to learn any foreign languages . in the US and the UK everyone just takes Spanish after tired hours of History or Physics to pass time and fill requirements.

French and German are quite demanding and somewhat classic languages, then it gets even more demanding and even less incentive to learn a language like Russian and Arabic , then Chinese and Japanese seem a bit nerdy and too exotic for most in the west , and the rest are only for special niches .


Yeahhh, I'm gonna agree with Lemus here and say this is a bit of a reach. For one thing, that's just not how the UK education system works - languages actually aren't compulsory for any exams (in England, at least), so all the teaching happens before that point, which means something is happening to make these students not choose to take an exam in that subject and study it further. Also, interestingly, although entries for French and German have steadily declined since the mid-90s, entries for languages like Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Italian, have all increased year on year. I know I couldn't sit a Mandarin A-Level before I went to uni but when I was in my final year, there were two separate tracks for new entries: ab initio or post A-Level.

I can't say there's not a major issue with how languages are perceived here (as if there's not a whole thing in general going on in this country rn...) BUT that alone can't explain the low uptake in languages by students and why the languages they do learn are not learnt to a high level - what I would say is that I'm not going to sit and blame teenagers who don't know how to learn languages; we need a lot more emphasis on 1) how to learn - including, like, basic grammar terms (although I've not been at school in a long time - if those are taught now, amazing) and how English works and 2) useful languages, like community languages. There are plenty of people even in the UK who don't and won't travel that much and so learning a language that is used by non-English speakers in their community would be much more useful.

The advantage people have in learning English (and also yes it's indicative of how much US/UK/English-speaking culture has spread and I know that's not always a good thing, but for this point) is that there's so much to soak up of it. I taught teenagers in Austria who spoke like natives because they wanted to watch new TV series so badly.

Plus, there's like whole other issues with recruiting teachers with the right language combinations, the vast majority of whom are English native speakers - and your average (non-private) secondary school is less likely to have access to a language assistant and although languages are taught in primary schools, these lessons are often the first to be dropped if other things come up and it's difficult to teach a language with, what, two contact hours a week (five max at A-Level) and there's an underlying belief and I think insecurity that drives a lot of the bad attitudes that people think they aren't good at languages etc. etc.

So it's not as simple as we don't want to learn them. It's just that, if we're monolingual English speakers surrounded by other monolingual English speakers and we don't show an instant aptitude for languages, it's a lot more constant uphill effort than sitting in a history or physics class and learning something we can read from a textbook.
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Re: UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

Postby Cavesa » Sun Nov 22, 2020 10:49 pm

LunaMoonsilver wrote:Yeahhh, I'm gonna agree with Lemus here and say this is a bit of a reach. For one thing, that's just not how the UK education system works - languages actually aren't compulsory for any exams (in England, at least), so all the teaching happens before that point, which means something is happening to make these students not choose to take an exam in that subject and study it further. Also, interestingly, although entries for French and German have steadily declined since the mid-90s, entries for languages like Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Italian, have all increased year on year. I know I couldn't sit a Mandarin A-Level before I went to uni but when I was in my final year, there were two separate tracks for new entries: ab initio or post A-Level.

I can't say there's not a major issue with how languages are perceived here (as if there's not a whole thing in general going on in this country rn...) BUT that alone can't explain the low uptake in languages by students and why the languages they do learn are not learnt to a high level - what I would say is that I'm not going to sit and blame teenagers who don't know how to learn languages; we need a lot more emphasis on 1) how to learn - including, like, basic grammar terms (although I've not been at school in a long time - if those are taught now, amazing) and how English works and 2) useful languages, like community languages. There are plenty of people even in the UK who don't and won't travel that much and so learning a language that is used by non-English speakers in their community would be much more useful.

The advantage people have in learning English (and also yes it's indicative of how much US/UK/English-speaking culture has spread and I know that's not always a good thing, but for this point) is that there's so much to soak up of it. I taught teenagers in Austria who spoke like natives because they wanted to watch new TV series so badly.

Plus, there's like whole other issues with recruiting teachers with the right language combinations, the vast majority of whom are English native speakers - and your average (non-private) secondary school is less likely to have access to a language assistant and although languages are taught in primary schools, these lessons are often the first to be dropped if other things come up and it's difficult to teach a language with, what, two contact hours a week (five max at A-Level) and there's an underlying belief and I think insecurity that drives a lot of the bad attitudes that people think they aren't good at languages etc. etc.

So it's not as simple as we don't want to learn them. It's just that, if we're monolingual English speakers surrounded by other monolingual English speakers and we don't show an instant aptitude for languages, it's a lot more constant uphill effort than sitting in a history or physics class and learning something we can read from a textbook.


Those are interesting points and I think the situation described in this thread has evolved during the last year. It will be less normal to just travel, because you feel like to.

One of the priorities may be the community languages, true. But I think there will be a huge backlash, like "shouldn't they learn English instead"? And in the cases of fields in need of bilingual people, the natives of the other language will have a clear advantage. So, perhaps another way to approach the language selection might also be a focus on the big languages of the internet and media. The internet will play a more important role than before the covid crisis, so people might also want to learn a language for the reasons that are much common here on the forum than in the mainstream public.

However, none of this will affect the choices of the masses of the individual students. It needs to be a society wide discussion and decision. If the UK finds that the languages are important for its future, it will have to make them obligatory to a larger extent. Or more of an official advantage for university entrance or work in the public institutions. Those are the common ways world wide. And if you force 100% of the mainstream education students (the situation is different for some special needs students of course) to really study languages, then you'll also have a larger % of the sucessful learners. Because right now, a large part of the UK population doesn't even try.

But it would be really cool to see the UK interested in new languages, instead of just not being interested at all. It might happen, if the UK realizes it is not too important anymore, it is no longer a huge empire with tons of colonies. The humility may reorient the country. So, perhaps they won't be learning German en masse again, but they might give well deserved attention to the Commonwealth countries' languages. And as a side effect, we all might pick from many more English based resources teaching Cantonese, Hindi, Swahili, Malay, or Urdu in a decade or so :-) .
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Re: UK-Pupils-Learn-Less-German-in-School

Postby s_allard » Thu Nov 26, 2020 3:09 pm

I'm not familiar with the various education systems in the UK, so I won't attempt to comment on the situation but two general points come to mind. First of all, I think we must recognize that generally speaking most elementary and secondary state school systems do not attempt or even pretend to teach the students how to acquire foreign languages. These are subjects, like any other subjects in the curriculum, that are studied as a requirement or as an option, with a grade in mind. So what really count is not the proficiency in the end but the grade that is often very important for further studies. What the student can do in the language is basically irrelevant.

To see how young students actually acquire proficiency in a foreign language, one only has to see what rich parents around the world do. Number one is they send their children to (expensive) private schools in the target language. In all the major cities in the world one can find so-called international schools in English. One can also find some lycées français and even the rare German schools. Number two, parents will often hire a private tutor or an au pair that will speak to the children in the target language. Number three, students will follow some on line tutoring service or take special language classes after regular school hours. Number four, children are sent for a stay of some length in a country of the language. The end result is of course a level of proficiency that is of course way beyond anything the normal state school can provide.

I should point out that some countries such as Spain and even China have some sort of program that will bring young native speakers of English to work as language assistants of sorts in certain classrooms. I'm not very familiar with this.

The other point I want to make is that in my opinion not only is English the easiest of the major world languages to learn, the very simplicity of English makes it very difficult for native speakers of English to learn other languages. For example, of the major Western languages, English does not have grammatical gender. It also as a simple verb conjugation system. Not surprisingly, these two areas pose the greatest difficulty for English-speakers learning other languages.

When you add, as others have mentioned, the ubiquity and attractiveness of English-language cultural products, science and technology, there is no wonder that while everybody is learning English, English speakers see little need to learn other languages.
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