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The languages that we offer are at A level are French, German and Spanish. The work builds on the foundations established at GCSE, in which the student should normally have achieved an A or an A* grade in the language. An A Level in a modern language will enable the student to speak and write the language with confidence as well as understand more advanced written and spoken language across a variety of situations. It will also provide the student with practical and transferable skills as well as broadening their cultural horizons; the courses are enjoyable and interesting in addition to being academically rigorous. Moreover, in the jobs market, advanced linguistic skills are valued by many employers.
The A Level courses cover a range of linguistic, literary and cultural topics. Themes such as the family and popular culture are studied in Year 12, extending skills developed at GCSE in listening, speaking, reading and writing. In Year 13, the themes move away from GCSE and are more focused upon the country whose language they are studying, such as immigration and integration. At A Level, either one film and one book, or two books are studied. In addition, A Level students undertake an individual research project on something which has been of interest to them in the A Level course. Although the study of literature may at first appear a little daunting, the experienced staff team choose the texts or film with a view to their accessibility and with students’ interests in mind. Grammatical work is important at A Level, as the only way to become a truly competent user of a language is to understand its grammar and to be able to apply it in any situation; grammatical work is not overbearing, however – it is taught in a thorough but regular and manageable way.
There are three examinations at the end of the course. One of these is a speaking test, which is conducted by either one of the class teachers or an external examiner before study leave, leaving only two further papers to sit. One examination tests listening, reading and writing skills as well as grammatical knowledge. Unlike GCSE, the listening material is provided on CD for the student to listen to as many times as they like. The second examination paper provides an opportunity to write about the book(s) and/or film which have been studied.
All the languages taught in the Department use a variety of materials, such as newspapers and magazines, film and video, and ICT as well as an exam-board specific course book. Students have a weekly timetabled lesson with one of our native speaker language assistants, either in a small group or individually in order to develop oral confidence and fluency.
We strongly encourage sixth form linguists to participate in home-stay visits, study trips or undertake work experience to France, Germany or Spain. As a general rule, and where numbers are sufficient to make a trip viable, there will be opportunities offered for all three languages at some point in the two years of the course. Time spent abroad, living and breathing the language and culture of the country, is a highly desirable and extremely valuable part of Sixth Form language study. In addition, there are a number of regional and national competitions that sixth-form linguists participate in such as the Linguistics Olympiad, a regional French debating competition, War of the Words, as well as the Mother Tongue Other Tongue poetry competition.
An increasing number of Birkdalians are continuing with their study of languages in higher education, not only in language degrees but in combination with law, economics and business to name but a few.