Why you should take languages at A Level and beyond…

Blog Author: Meg Drake

Today we are lucky enough to feature the second blog on this site by Megan Drake who is an ex-student of mine and is currently studying French and German at University. In today's blog she addresses our younger readers by giving them lots of reasons why they should be considering studying languages at A Level and University. However, I hope it's also useful to any adults who are reading as Meg's passion for languages is so evident throughout and, as I myself have proved, you don't necessarily need to study languages formally to become obsessed with them! Thanks again for writing this blog Meg and for all your continued support of the Kick Start Languages project! I hope you enjoy reading Meg's blog as much I did! 

Meg's blog:

Hello readers! I thought that I would use this blog post to share a little bit about my language learning journey as I have had different experiences with each of the languages I am currently studying (French, German and Italian), and I know that many people have questions when it comes to learning languages at school and university. I have worked extremely hard to reach the level of fluency I’m currently at in French, and despite struggling with foreign languages in the education system to begin with, I had some seriously fantastic teachers who really helped to ignite my passion for languages and inspired me to continue studying them. I am currently in my first year of university studying French (post A-Level) and German (as a complete beginner) and in my experience, languages become more and more enjoyable the further you progress. So, if you’ve just started learning a language and are finding it tricky, I urge you to keep going because learning all the basics at the beginning is the hardest bit in my opinion. I also just want to clarify that in no way do I believe it is necessary to study languages at school or at university in order to reach any kind of fluency. There are many polyglots like Benny Lewis who are prime examples of this. For me, this was simply something I wanted to do. However, I will be continuing my independent language studies, more specifically in using Jonny’s 10-week course to learn some more Italian. I highly suggest that you get involved because you never know where it might lead you, and you may just end up discovering a lifelong passion.

If any of you reading are studying for a GCSE language at the moment and are debating whether or not to continue it through to A-Level I really can’t recommend it to you enough. This is just a biased opinion from a keen language learner, but if you’ve made it this far into the blog then I will assume that you at least have a mild interest or are intrigued by studying languages too! A-Level languages are great in helping you consolidate everything you learnt at GCSE - so if you’re feeling as though it will be too hard for you, or that you’re not good enough, YOU ARE! By the end of the course you’ll see just how far you’ve progressed, provided that you’re willing to put the work in and are genuinely motivated to learn. However, unlike at GCSE where your focus is on remembering vocabulary and grammar just to pass your exam, you’re encouraged to engage more with the language and with culture to build real a real fluency once you get to A-Level. For me this was a complete win as I could spend my evenings and weekends watching French films and tv shows (I would highly suggest Netflix as a starting point if you’re struggling to find content) and listening to as much francophone music as I could get my hands on as it was still benefiting my learning (I spoke more about this in my last post). In this way A-Level totally transformed my attitude to language learning. The content definitely becomes more interesting and relevant to real life (less time talking about playing football with your mates at the weekend and how many pets you have - I promise!), and I spent these wonderful two years looking at French cinema, history, music, multiculturalism and the French prison system amongst a great deal of other things, and for my final speaking exam I gave a presentation on young people and the French political system - something my younger self wound never have imagined as a possibility! So, even if you’re not learning languages in a classroom I think this just goes to show that language learning can be so much fun and there’s such a wide variety of topics you can look at to spark your interest even further.

I’ve found that the way languages are taught at A-Level are actually very similar to the way they are taught at university and I found the transition to be quite smooth. The only real differences I’ve found are that content and language are separated and that language seminars are 100% in the target language for post-A-Level students. Essentially all this means is that I have 3 hours a week, completely in French, dedicated to grammar, listening, reading, writing and speaking. This is separate from my other modules which cover things like history, film and literature depending on your module choices. I hope this has also given you a slight indication of what university is like, as this is something I wish I had been told before applying. So, if you’re coming to the end of an A-Level language I would also recommend a university language course, whether this be on its own or in combination with another subject like history or philosophy. Moreover, if you gave up on a language after GCSE but wish you hadn’t, most universities will give you the option to study a beginner’s language alongside or as part of your degree. In fact, at university the choice of languages on offer is often more varied than the ones you typically see at school. For instance, at my university in particular, Russian, Arabic, Latin, Greek, Mandarin and Japanese are a possibility as well as the more widely studied Spanish, Italian, French and German. It is never too late to pick up a language, and this can be a really great option for those who still want the aid of a native teacher.

When I was younger I really used to enjoy my language lessons and the idea of being able to speak French, but like many others fluency always appeared to be unattainable. Modern languages were subjects that everyone studied, yet few people could actually have a real conversation with a native speaker by the end of the course. Whilst I put most of this down to the fact that most people don’t quite know how (or necessarily want) to study a language outside of a classroom, I also understand that many younger students don’t find foreign languages interesting in the first place and don’t find the way they are encouraged to learn them very exciting at all. Very rarely do these students transform language learning into a habit, as Jonny has mentioned in previous posts, and consequently they will attend their required two or three hours of language lessons a week and complete their homework but do nothing to consolidate what they have learnt because they simply don’t have the motivation. I can wholeheartedly say that before I began my A-Levels I was one of these students. I wasn’t even completely set on choosing French until my dad really pushed me to do it - cheers dad! I enjoyed languages but wasn’t entirely sure how to incorporate them into my life or was particularly inspired to do so. I definitely would not have said I was passionate about French until I got to A-Level. All it took for this to change was a couple of really inspiring teachers (Mlle Lautier and Mme Caumartin if you happen to be reading this!) who were willing to show me the benefits of learning a second language, and who I was able to approach for help both in regards to the language itself and also in finding resources and enjoyable things to do in order to enhance my independent study. I spoke a lot more about this in my last post about music.

I guess what I am trying to get across in this blog post is that whilst the education system can be pretty disheartening at times, if you change your attitude towards learning a language and accept your teachers as facilitators of learning rather than people who are responsible for implanting Spanish/French/German into your brain, then taking a GCSE/A-Level/University course can be a great opportunity. You’ll also start to appreciate just how amazing your teachers are. Whether they are native speakers of English or the language you are learning they all went through a language learning process and will likely have some good tips that they can share with you. Besides, if you’re still in school this opportunity is free (some people pay hundreds for language courses) and I think it would be a shame to waste it. I am just an average nineteen-year-old who continues to learn languages through techniques I’ve picked up along the way. I am by no means fluent in any of my languages, but if I hadn’t continued my studies of French through to A-Level I don’t think I would have ever discovered this passion of mine. If I can do it, then you can too. So, whatever stage of learning you’re at, whether you’re in your final year of GCSE or are about to start learning your first foreign language with Jonny’s 10-week course, I hope you will find it just as fulfilling as I did. Good luck with this exciting new adventure. Meg

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