Language awards without an exam

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Strategy could encourage pursuit of linguistic skills, Nicola Porter reports

Welsh teenagers could soon receive grades for speaking a modern foreign language - without having to sit a GCSE or A-level exam.

The Assembly government is considering using an English strategy to reward even the most basic language skills, including ordering a meal in a restaurant.

Officials are said to be already convinced that the "languages ladder - steps to success", a national voluntary recognition scheme introduced by the Department for Education and Skills, could boost languages uptake at key stage 4.

They also see it as a way of accrediting the language module that all Welsh baccalaureate advanced-level students have to take. The strategy, which was rolled out in England last September, grades language skills in a similar way to external music exams. Any language can be recognised under the scheme, including sign.

It is also seen as a way for ethnic-minority groups, such as Somali children, to gain recognition for speaking their mother tongue in the absence of a GCSE exam. However, teachers piloting the Welsh bac at advanced level say a shortage of foreign language tutors in Wales limits choice.

Gareth Hall-Williams, assistant head at Cardiff's Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr, offered French, Italian and Spanish to his bac pupils last year.

He wanted to offer Japanese, but no tutor was available. Mr Hall-Williams will address a conference organised by CILT Cymru, the Assembly-funded national centre for languages, in Swansea tomorrow.

He said: "Modern foreign language (MFL) skills at any level are good to have. The Welsh bac language module gives students the chance to learn new conversational or written skills, however basic, in an innovative and exciting way.

"It is something they could use in a foreign airport or hospital. But we need more tutors."

CILT Cymru has been attempting to revive MFLs by piloting language courses in Welsh primary schools, but the scheme has yet to work through to GCSE level.

GCSE entries for both French, German and Welsh second language saw significant falls last year. The rise of "sexy" subjects, such as media studies, has been blamed for pushing them out.

But a language scheme up and running in nine north Wales schools could buck the trend. Foreign national students, usually German and French, are being deployed as free, part-time foreign language assistants in the schools.

Swansea Institute has also signed up to the scheme, which is funded in part by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

Ceri James, director of CILT Cymru, said: "We still have some way to go in generating the interest of pupils at secondary school level in MFLs.

However, pupils who do get involved in some of the schemes absolutely love it."

CILT Cymru has warned previously that GCSE entries for MFLs could fall below 30 per cent this year. An Assembly government spokesperson said it was considering using language ladders in Wales from September 2006.

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