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Lost in translation?

Becoming fluent in the differences between modern language exam boards is tough. Marian Jones helps you help your pupils.

Have you got GCSE candidates thinking about continuing with a modern language at AS-level in September? Have you decided which of the four new specifications you will choose for them? There's a wealth of information available from the examination boards, but how do you pick the best of it?

There are many similarities between the four boards, especially at AS- level. All four - AQA, Edexcel, OCR and WJEC - put an emphasis on topics likely to appeal to today's candidates: media, communications technology and youth culture. Some familiar topics such as health and relationships continue, but other more wide-ranging areas such as Europe and the French- speaking world have gone. At A2, three of the four boards offer a fairly familiar range of topics, such as law, the environment and new technology, but Edexcel's emphasis on "Beliefs" and "National and International Events" sets it apart.

And what about the format of the examinations themselves? Does that vary more? Yes, to some degree at AS and significantly more so at A2. At AS, all the boards offer a range of listening and reading tasks, with a few small differences, such as a grammar-based gap-filling exercise from AQA and the translation into English of sections of the reading texts from WJEC. Three of the four boards set an essay of 200 to 250 words, but OCR's written tasks are more structured: candidates must respond in writing to a listening text, then answer summary and opinion questions on a written text.

For the oral exam, OCR also differs quite significantly. Pupils will be expected to carry out a role-play task, for example explaining the attractions of a tourist site or British product to a foreign visitor. It's less predictable, but perhaps more practically relevant.

At A2, Edexcel is radically different. The other three boards will set a range of reading and listening tasks, usually including translation from and into French and one essay. Edexcel's A2 paper has no specific reading or listening tasks, but rather translation into French and two essays, one creative or discursive, the other research-based.

Louise Wilson, the head of languages at Millfield School in Somerset, whose department does Edexcel, says: "We think it is important to have a listening exam at A2."

Another main difference between the boards is in the cultural element offered. If your pupils enjoy culture and literature, consider the WJEC because they will be expected to write an essay on a cultural topic and be asked to do an oral on a second topic.

AQA's essay will be cultural, with a wide choice of literary and other subjects and Edexcel's research-based essay offers a free choice of topic. If you want to avoid the cultural element, then OCR allows you to do that because pupils can opt to write their essay on one of the language topics they have studied instead

Marian Jones is a part-time teacher and textbook writer

What are the publishers offering for the new exams?

Available now

Oxford University Press is updating the popular Elan, Zeitgeist and Animo courses for the new specifications. Evaluation packs containing a student's book, teacher's book, study guide, grammar workbook and two self-study CD-Roms are available this month for pound;50. Call 01536 741 068. In March, it publishes four separate assessment packs, one for each exam board so you can tailor the course to any of the four boards.


Publishing this summer

- Nelson Thornes has opted for a one-board approach, having collaborated with AQA. It is publishing dedicated courses for AQA French, AQA German and AQA Spanish this summer. There will be a textbook and a range of electronic materials such as interactive exercises, video and audio clips and downloadable worksheets.


- Heinemann's new French AS course, as yet untitled, will also be published this summer, with the A2 course to follow in March 2009. SecondaryModern LanguagesModern Languages.aspx.

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