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Top Exam Tips Part 2: GCSE Languages

In our last post on boosting your child’s exam chances we looked at some GCSE Maths tips. Today it’s the turn of a subject area that many mums and dads find no less scary – modern foreign languages.

How can you help your child revise for a modern foreign language GCSE – say, French or German – if you don’t speak that language, or your skills are so rusty as to be non-existent?

One way you can make a difference is by helping your child learn and revise vocabulary. A strong vocab is one of the big determiners of success in a language GCSE. Some ideas:

• If you’re testing your child from a word list that he or she has learned, ask for the meaning of the words out of list order.

• Remember to test both ways: “what’s le pont in English?”, “what’s the German word for apple?”

• Mix and match lists, or encourage your child to keep a long-term vocab book (which school might insist on, anyway). Often, kids will only remember the words in the most recent list, so being tested on vocab that’s been learned throughout the GCSE course is really good revision.

One pitfall you need to be aware of is gender. Just about every European language divides nouns (the names of things: apple, table, bridge, Jim, Annie, love, hate and so on) into genders: masculine and feminine in French, Italian and Spanish; and masculine, feminine and neuter in German and Latin.

(English is unusual, because gender usually only crops up in third person pronouns – he, him, his, she, her, hers, it, its. In other languages the effects of gender are further-reaching.)

The important point to remember when you’re testing kids’ vocab is that it’s completely pointless them knowing a noun unless they also know that noun’s gender – because the gender will affect the way that sentences are constructed around that noun.

So, for example, it’s no good your child knowing that the French word for house is maison, unless he or she also knows that it’s a feminine noun – la maison.

Luckily, in most languages your child might learn, the gender of a noun is indicated by the definite article that goes with it – that is, the word for ‘the’. If you’re testing vocab, don’t accept an answer that doesn’t have a definite article! For example, don’t accept Glas as the German word for glass – it should be Das Glas. Common definite articles are le and la in French, der, die and das in German, el and la in Spanish and lo, il and la in Italian.

(If your child is studying GCSE Latin, things are a bit trickier, because Latin doesn’t have a word for ‘the’ or ‘a’. Instead, learners have to memorise the gender of each noun separately.)

In French and Italian words that begin with vowels usually have elided articles, where the word for ‘the’ is run into the main word – l’ananas (French), l’ostrica (Italian). When you come across a word like that, make sure your child also knows its gender separately: “l’ostrica – feminine”.

Of course, vocabulary isn’t everything, and there are some aspects of a foreign language that only a native speaker or an expert can teach your child. If you’re in the Manchester or East Cheshire area and you feel a bit of extra help is needed, feel free to get in touch for a no-obligation chat about how one of our modern foreign language tutors might be able to help you.

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