Studying Two Foreign Languages for GCSE


By Mrs Heather Adams

As a teacher of both GCSE French and Spanish, a question that my Year 9 students often ask me at this time of year is: “Miss, which language do you think I should take for GCSE?” There is no correct answer to this question, and I often advise my students to choose the one that they enjoy the most. Studying a language for GCSE requires a fair amount of time and dedication, and personally, I have always found it easier, and more rewarding, to study things which I enjoy. However, a lot of my students’ reply to this is: “But Miss, I really enjoy both!” In that case, my answer would always be: “Well, why not study two languages for GCSE?” 

 

Every year, we have quite a number of Year 9 students who opt to study two languages at GCSE. When we asked some of our current Year 11 students how they felt about the decision they had made, we had answers such as:

 

“I take both French and Spanish, and, although it’s a challenge, the skills I learn in one really help in the other. I’ve loved studying languages and the cultural parts of the course are really interesting!” 

Mixing up the Languages

It’s true that there are many similarities between French and Spanish, and the study of one can really complement the other. Their similarities come from the fact that both languages are Romance languages, and have their origins back in Vulgar Latin. Some students do worry that they may get mixed up between the two languages, but I tell them that while there are similarities between the languages, they are more like cousins than siblings, and that there are more than enough differences to allow your brain to separate the two. If this is still a worry for you, you could always opt to take either French or Spanish but with German as your second language. The origins of German are quite different, being a Germanic language rather than a Romance language. This means that the grammar, sentence structure and vocabulary is quite different to French and Spanish, which would help to eliminate any concerns you might have about mixing up the two

Studying Two Languages – A Case Study

So, what’s it like to study two languages at GCSE? Speaking from my own experience, I started French in Year 7 at secondary school and quickly grew to absolutely love it. A little known fact about me is that our very own Head of MFL, Mrs Marshall, was my French teacher from Year 9 to Year 13 at school, and it was her marvelous French lessons in Year 9 that inspired me to take up GCSE Spanish from scratch in Year 10. This wasn’t an easy task, but I have never regretted my decision. I found that learning two languages at GCSE helped me greatly in other subjects I studied, for example by developing my communication skills, both written and spoken, which helped with my GCSE English and other essay-based subjects. Learning the finer points of grammar, such as the different tenses and how they were used was a real bonus, and helped to improve my written work in my native language, as well as in my foreign languages. Furthermore, the speaking elements of the lessons helped to boost my confidence, which helped me with the performance aspect of my GCSE Music – although I love playing instruments and singing, the performance aspect always terrified me!

 

With a lot of hard work, I managed to achieve A* grades in both of my language GCSEs, and then I went on to study both languages at A Level, which allowed me to then go on and study my degree in Modern Language Studies, which covered French, Spanish and German, with an element of Italian. Studying three languages allowed me endless possibilities when it came to the Year Abroad aspect of my course. 

 

On the day of my final exams at university, I had a job interview, and having language skills allowed me to get a job which I didn’t really have the experience to do! The company I worked for was expanding rapidly into European markets, and having a linguist on the team allowed them to deal directly with suppliers, stockists and retailers abroad. Despite not having marketing experience, having language skills landed me the role and I learnt the rest on the job. As part of this job, I travelled to the British Consulate in Barcelona to give a presentation in Spanish about our product line to gynaecologists, physiotherapists and pharmaceutical companies, as well as travelling to Dubai to the Arab Health exhibition. See – languages really do take you places!

 

A Globally Connected World (that speaks less English than you think)

In 2021, it’s fair to say that, more than ever, we live in a world with an ever-changing landscape. In the past year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, even though we have had to stay apart, thanks to Google Meets and Zoom, we have been able to be in the ‘same room’ as people from every corner of the planet. Companies are more globally connected than ever before, meaning that language skills become ever more vital. What’s more, as a result of Brexit, Britain is having to re-negotiate deals on everything from agriculture and fisheries, to customs and trade, so to get the best deals, being able to speak in different languages is imperative. 

 

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the world speaks English! 94% of the world’s population does not speak English as their first language, and 75% don’t speak any English at all. In other European countries, such as Germany, France and Spain, it’s really common for young people to learn two languages at school, which gives students from these countries a real advantage in the job market once they finish their studies. Thinking even further ahead, scientific studies have also shown that learning languages helps to protect the brain from the effects of ageing! All of these, and more, are great reasons to consider studying two languages at GCSE.

 

To finish, I will leave you with a quote from another of our Year 11 dual linguists:

 

“I chose to study both French and Spanish because I believe that languages can be very useful in later life and could come in handy in certain situations in the future. I also think that studying foreign languages can help you understand and develop your own, native language, and can help you to see the connections between certain words and the meanings behind them. Learning languages helps to break down language barriers and can create a more united world to live in.”

 

And in these uncertain times, when Covid is keeping us apart, what could be more important than a more united world?

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