Skip to main content

MFL A-levels accredited

As of yesterday there are now two awarding bodies who have had their A-level specifications accredited by Ofqual. The delay has been a frustration to teachers anxious to be planning for September, but new specifications are never brought in early enough for teachers and Ofqual are certainly fastidious over the detail of mark schemes, question rubrics and specimen papers. the last minute nature of all this has much less to do with exam boards and Ofqual, much more to do with the politicians who set the hurried timetable. Need I say more?

Many teachers will, in any case, now be making their choice of exam board and when gained time arrives in May, then the real preparation can begin. New textbooks should be out by then too if you feel a textbook is useful.

In fact, what has emerged from the boards is much more palatable than the initial vision of ALCAB which was, in my view, too academic and unsuited to the planning of stimulating, communicative lessons (check out that link and you'll see what I mean). Overall, if I were still a HoD, I would not be unhappy about what has been produced. I might even go as far as to say that the new specifications are a fraction better. The boards should be congratulated for this.

In essence, what's new?
  • AS is decoupled from A-level. "A2" therefore no longer exists, but AS can be co-taught with A-level.
  • A whole A-level consists in part of six AS topics ('sub-themes') and six A-level topics. This is far fewer than before, so teachers may feel less pressed to get through a lengthy list of topics as now.
  • Film or literature now features at AS-level. The choice is from a prescribed list the nature of which will appeal more or less to the individual teacher. My guess is that many schools will choose to do a film.
  • Translation to and from TL now features at AS-level. The translation into TL is based on a brief stimulus text which will provide much of the vocabulary, so the translation will focus on skilled use of syntax and morphology.
  • Students have to write a literature or film essay at AS-level, but no general language essay.
  • At AS-level students have to summaries of reading and listening sources.
  • At A-level students do an Individual Research Project, assessed in the oral.
  • Cultural content now forms 20% of the assessment at both levels, so knowledge of the TL culture plays a bigger role than before. Don't worry needlessly over this, however. Depending on the board, much of this assessment is done as part of the film and oral, e.g. the literature and research project. Students will be expected to bring knowledge of the culture to parts of the assessments, but are not expected to be experts - linguistic skill takes priority. I really would not fret over this issue.
So, with next year in mind, the main priorities would be to place a greater emphasis than you may have done before on film/literature and the essay writing associated with it, translation and summary. Look at it this way: you'll be doing fewer topics in greater depth, so it should feel less like GCSE. Expect the standard to be roughly the same as now, with arguably a greater challenge at AS-level owing to the inclusion of film/literature. You'll clearly want to think about how you structure the AS year. I would personally put a film in the spring term where it would take roughly half the lesson time and a fair bit of homework.

My priorities in selecting a specification would be the topics and choice of film and literature. You'll find a good deal of overlap between boards, but enough differences to make a choice significant. Traditionally AQA have been the most popular board, followed by Edexcel/Pearson. Full disclosure: I write teacher support resources and lead training sessions for AQA.

Here are the six AQA AS-level French themes (which are also part of A-level, remember). The sub-heading are for added guidance and are not separate 'sub-topics'. They indicate the boundaries of where assessment material will be drawn from.

The changing nature of family (La famille en voie de changement) 
        Grands-parents, parents et enfants – soucis et problèmes 
        Monoparentalité, homoparentalité, familles recomposées 
        La vie de couple – nouvelles tendances 
The 'cyber-society' (La « cyber-société ») 
        Qui sont les cybernautes ? 
        Comment la technologie facilite la vie quotidienne 
        Quels dangers la « cyber-société » pose-t-elle ? 
The place of voluntary work (Le rôle du bénévolat) 
        Qui sont et que font les bénévoles ? 
        Le bénévolat – quelle valeur pour ceux qui sont aidés ? 
        Le bénévolat – quelle valeur pour ceux qui aident ?
A culture proud of its heritage (Une culture fière de son patrimoine) 
       Le patrimoine sur le plan national, régional et local 
      Comment le patrimoine reflète la culture 
      Le patrimoine et le tourisme 
Contemporary francophone music (La musique francophone contemporaine) 
      La diversité de la musique francophone contemporaine 
      Qui écoute et apprécie cette musique ? 
     Comment sauvegarder cette musique ? 
Cinema: the 7th art form (Cinéma : le septième art) 
     Pourquoi le septième art ? 
     Le cinéma – une passion nationale ? 
     Evolution du cinéma – les grandes lignes 

And the other six A-level themes:

Positive features of a diverse society (Les aspects positifs d'une société                 diverse) 
      L'enrichissement dû à la mixité ethnique 
      Diversité, tolérance et respect 
      Diversité – un apprentissage pour la vie 
Life for the marginalised (Quelle vie pour les marginalisés ? ) 
      Qui sont les marginalisés ? 
      Quelle aide pour les marginalisés ? 
      Quelles attitudes envers les marginalisés ? 
How criminals are treated (Comment on traite les criminels) 
      Quelles attitudes envers la criminalité ? 
      La prison – échec ou succès ? 
      D'autres sanctions
Teenagers, the right to vote and political commitment (Les ados, le droit de          vote et l'engagement politique) 
      Pour ou contre le droit de vote ? 
      Les ados et l'engagement politique – motivés ou démotivés ? 
      Quel avenir pour la politique ? 
Demonstrations, strikes – who holds the power? (manifestations, grèves – à         qui le pouvoir ? ) 
      Le pouvoir des syndicats 
      Manifestations et grèves – sont-elles efficaces ?  Attitudes différentes                   envers ces tensions politiques 
Politics and immigration (La politique et l'immigration) 
      Solutions politiques à la question de l'immigration 
      L'immigration et les partis politiques  
      L'engagement politique chez les immigrés 

Here are the French books and films:

• Molière, Le Tartuffe 
• Voltaire, Candide 
• Guy de Maupassant, Boule de Suif et autres contes de la guerre 
• Albert Camus, L’étranger 
• Françoise Sagan, Bonjour tristesse 
• Claire Etcherelli, Elise ou la vraie vie 
• Joseph Joffo, Un sac de billes 
• Faïza Guène, Kiffe kiffe demain 
• Philippe Grimbert, Un secret 
• Delphine de Vigan, No et moi 

• Les 400 coups, François Truffaut (1959) 
• Au revoir les enfants, Louis Malle (1987) 
• La Haine, Mathieu Kassovitz (1995) 
• L’auberge espagnole, Cédric Klapisch (2002) 
• Un long dimanche de fiançailles, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2004) 
• Entre les murs, Laurent Cantet (2008) 

There's plenty for you and the students to get their teeth into there. Much of it is not dissimilar to the current specifications, which is to be applauded.

There will be three exams at AS-level:

Paper 1 - Listening, Reading , Writing - 1h 45 - including translation into English.
Paper 2 - Writing 1h 30  Translation into TL and an essay on film/lit
Paper 3 - Speaking - 12-14 minutes plus 15 mins prep

A-level exams:

Paper 1 - Listening, Reading, Writing - 2h 30 - including translation both ways
Paper 2 - Writing - 2h - two essays on film/lit
Paper 3 - 21-23 minutes, inc 5 mins prep - includes IRP presentation/discussion

I mentioned earlier that the new specs may be a little better than the already satisfactory ones. This is because the number of topics is lower, film/lit features at AS-level, the Personal Research Project is a bonus and the prescriptive lists of texts may make assessment more consistent across schools (erratic marking is a frequent complaint). I also like the fact that some 'lightweight' GCSE-style topics such as holidays and healthy living have gone, but regret that the environment does not feature at all. However, the IRP is a 'catch-all' where students can choose something they want, with advice from the teacher.

Here is the AQA spec:

For comparison, Edexcel/Pearson's offer:


Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:

Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…