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!

Pssst! Want to buy a bar of chocolate?

Excuse the joke, but I’ve just read this article on the BBC news website about someone finding a Cadbury’s Wispa bar and selling it on eBay, even though it is out of date.

The article says that the bar is rare – because the bars are no longer made. This was something that I didn’t know, so I went over to eBay to have a look at what was on offer.

I found T-shirts, mugs and Wispa bars. Some are on their own, others in packs of 5. There are even boxes of 48 that will set you back 40-50GBP (maybe even more!)

Why this madness? Well, wispa bars were popular (I liked them as well 😉 so people are obviously stocking up on them before they run out again. Perhaps Cadbury’s will take notice and bring them back again.

It made me wonder what other rare bars of chocolate I could find on eBay, and a quick search turned up a Marathon bar (not Snickers!) but not much else.

I couldn’t even find a Raider bar on eBay in Germany – that’s called ‘Twix’ these days!

The Archibishop of Canterbury and his can of worms

This afternoon I read the suggestion from the Archbishop of Canterbury that Sharia (Islamic) law should be implemented in the UK. To be precise, he said that it “seems unavoidable“.

I made my thoughts then and was going to blog about it this evening, but a few thousand people got there first on the BBC news forum. Currently they have received nearly 9000 comments, with just over 2500 published and over 6000 waiting to be moderated!

I think there are a lot of conflicting ideas going on here. Let’s try and sort them out:

Tolerance of other religious faiths

I think that the UK is one of the most tolerant societies in Europe, because in my opinion it doesn’t just make an effort to bring everyone together – it really manages it as well.

If a religious minority has problems practising their faith, then the UK authorities usually find a way of making it possible. A good example of these is the exemption on wearing motorcycle helmets for the Sikh community.

Prohibition to suit other faiths

This I find more difficult. It is one thing to allow something to a particular group, but quite another to ban it in a whole country to keep that group happy. Stopping stories with pigs being told in schools, for example, is taking this too far in my opinion. It would be better to tell the story and use the opportunity to discuss the different religious positions on pigs.

I personally encountered a similar demand at a Scout Jamboree once. A meeting for Scout Leaders was to be held in a particular tent. The only problem was, that this tent was the Leaders’ bar in the evening, meaning that on a camp site for over 30,000 people, this was the only tent to serve alcohol and only then after 8pm to people over 18. This was still enough for one country to request that the meeting (to be held at 3pm) be relocated – not on religious grounds, but because their country’s Scout rules did not allow alcohol at camp.

Making laws optional

In the current case, it seems to be suggested that Muslims in the UK should have the choice of being tried by UK or Sharia law. I think this has wide-ranging implications, because it assumes that both parties would accept this, which I am sure would not always be the case.

But since when does the person being tried get to chose under which law they are in court? I live in Germany and have to abide by the laws of this country – I cannot decide to live by the laws of the UK.

Some of the comments that followed on the BBC forum are very direct, along the lines of “if someone wants to live by Sharia law then they should move to a country that has it”. I can follow these sentiments up to a point. Many people who might like to live by that law still prefer to live in the UK.

How to get round the problem

I think the best thing to do is to separate laws and principles, as it is quite possible to live be a set of principles within the laws of another country. I live by the British principles that I was brought up with, but I live under German law. Surely this must be possible to apply to the situation for Muslims in the UK?

To be quite honest, I think a lot of the comments are right to point out that this may not have been such a problem as it is being made out to be, and that the Archbishop should have left the topic well alone.

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