Learning to speak a language – and be tested on it

I remember when GCSEs were first introduced – I myself was in the first year to take them for mathematics, and the second year for other subjects such as languages. The idea was to put more emphasis on being able to do something, than being able to be tested on it.

So in languages more effort was put in being able to speak a language and make yourself understood, and a little bit less was put into writing it and the grammar – something that my university would later complain about.

So the idea that pupils should no longer have oral examinations on these subjects is a bit worrying – for me it seems like another step back from leaning the language thoroughly.

I don’t remember that much about my GCSE oral exams, but I remember that certain situations had to be prepared and you learnt a lot of set phrases at the time. I do, however, clearly remember my A-level German oral exam (which I got an ‘A’ in 🙂 and it was maybe stressful, but it was a positive experience to come out of the exam and to be able to say that I had managed to keep going in German for the entire duration.

So why get rid of this part of the exam process?

There is nothing to be gained in my opinion from only having the spoken skills assessed – as at the first opportunity in the workplace these skills may really be tested.

I used to interview students coming to Germany for placements here – and I carried out the interviews in German.

Of course, having been through the system myself, I had an advantage over a native speaker in that I knew what vocabulary a student would or would not know, and could as such make the interview easy or difficult.

In fact, it was not only important to be able to speak German, but to have the confidence to do it!

I gained a lot of confidence in my A-level oral exam – and a lot more on subsequent trips to Germany when I sometimes had no alternative but to explain myself in German.

Please don’t take this confidence booster away from today’s schoolchildren!

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