In the Modern Foreign Languages Department at Chigwell we strive to give our young people the tools necessary to really be able to use another language, and enjoy doing so. We make sure all our students are exposed to the full range of linguistic skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing – and our lessons, homework and assessment reflect this. We stress too the importance of learning vocabulary and manipulating grammar. Regardless of whether a student goes to Oxford or Cambridge to read modern languages (as some of our students have in each of the last three years), or learns enough to be able to ‘have a go’ on holiday, we want all to enjoy and appreciate our subject.
In year 7, all our pupils take French, and a free choice of either Spanish or German, which is done following brief taster courses in both in the first half term. Most pupils will take one modern language in years 8 and 9, with a few splitting their time between two. Our course books are Expo in French, Mira in Spanish and Stimmt in German. Pupils will get used to writing short texts in the foreign language, and having brief conversations with each other and their teacher, as well as listening and reading in the language.
The GCSE course follows naturally on from the topics, vocabulary and grammar seen in the previous three years; progression is gradual. There are twelve units in the GCSE course, and after each one we give pupils a check list of questions they ought to be able to answer, both orally and in writing. The emphasis is on producing language, and pupils find it a busy and satisfying course. Translation plays an important role in helping pupils to see the similarities and differences between the foreign and their own native language. For the first time, our native speaker foreign language assistants work with pupils for a few minutes every week, in small groups or individually, helping them to practise conversations and supporting the development of their pronunciation.
AS and A2 French, Spanish and German take students to an impressive level of fluency, building on the foundations established in years 7 – 11. The topics are based on but deepen the work seen in GCSE, and introduce more cultural knowledge and understanding, including brief looks at elements of history, art and society. Film and literature and also studied: one work at AS, and another at A2. In French, for instance, students watch the film La Haine at AS. We keep our choices of films and books relevant and accessible so that students enjoy watching or reading them, and are thus able write both knowledgeably and enthusiastically. Translation and summary tasks are also commonly practised. All of our students are allotted a fifty minute conversation session once a week with one of our foreign language assistants. There are brief speaking exams at both AS and A2 lasting no more than 15 minutes and covering a small selection of the topics studied.
All teachers have extension material prepared in French, Spanish and German. We encourage Sixth Formers who are considering continuing with modern languages at university to read beyond the curriculum in both year 12 and 13, and to take part in essay competitions. Our library subscribes to magazines which we encourage all keen modern linguists to look at: Phosphore in French, Punto y coma in Spanish, and Babel for everyone.
Aside from our foreign visits (the German exchange to Hamburg; Spanish visits to Benalmádena, Madrid and Barcelona; the French homestay to Nice), we take part in the UK Linguistics Olympiad every February, which is a fun afternoon for anyone interested in languages (not just the ones studied at school!), in which pupils from Chigwell have been awarded bronze, silver and gold medals. We also arrange after school Mandarin clubs – at the time of writing, there are sessions for both year 9 and year 12 once a week for an hour after school.