The Linguist

The Linguist 53,5

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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16 The Linguist OCTOBER/NOVEMBER FEATURES Shirley Lawes assesses the proposed changes to the post-16 exam P roposals for quite extensive changes to AS/A-level languages were released for public consultation from July to September. Nothing is yet cast in stone as to what will constitute post-GCSE study, but already the A Level Content Advisory Board for Modern Foreign Languages (ALCAB MFL), the panel appointed to advise on the content, has provoked some sharp responses. In the first place, the decision to invite a panel of Russell Group university languages specialists to review the qualification and recommend changes was contentious, inviting criticism by some (non-Russell Group) academics, teaching unions and teachers. The ALCAB report, published in July following seven months of heated debate and thoughtful deliberation, is sure to be criticised by some sections of education, business and industry. Comments have been made that the proposals lack relevance to young people's lives, that they do not address issues of 'employability', and even that the examination is too demanding. Equally, the decision to recommend that examination should be partly in English may be denounced by those in the teaching profession who advocate a greater emphasis on target-language use in the classroom. But to understand the thinking behind the proposals, the report 1 is compulsory reading. Problems with the existing exam Whatever the public response to the ALCAB- proposed reforms may be, the level of dissatisfaction and serious criticisms that have been levelled at the current AS/A-level examinations should be recognised. One of the most important is that there is little requirement to develop significant knowledge of the culture of the country or countries where the foreign language is spoken. The topic areas are general, with a predominant emphasis on youth culture, lifestyle, and health and fitness – all of which may have been studied at GCSE and which seem to provide limited intellectual or cognitive challenge. There is no obligation to provide target-culture contexts or direct engagement with authentic, culturally based materials, and so cultural knowledge remains superficial. Literature is unlikely to be studied in any serious sense and, together with film, has a very marginal place in the current specifications. Students are encouraged to learn scripts by heart, which are reproduced in the examination, but little fluent, spontaneous use of the language is in evidence. Equally, many students fail to achieve a deep understanding of language systems, and their ability to apply grammar rules accurately in either written or oral tests is limited to immediate practical use. The current AS/A-level examination, critics claim, neither prepares students for further study at university, nor equips them with the communicative competence that could be further developed at work. The ALCAB report reflects some of these views and suggests that the current specifications 'have contributed… to a repetitive and hence rather dull and uninspiring learning experience' (P.13). Reviving a love of languages The starting point of the ALCAB discussions was to consider the principles that should underpin the reform of the qualification. Conscious that a key aim should be to reverse the decline of MFL learning post-16, and to revive an interest in the study of languages at university, the panel set about identifying the principles that would guide change. Central to the debate was the Moving up A level?

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