Developing Independent Learning Skills in MFL

The following skills are recognised as significant for students to develop for the highest achievement in MFL. Students should:

  • Show a genuine interest in the cultural features of the language being studied
  • Think quickly and be able to recognise familiar language in an unfamiliar context
  • Have the ability to use verbal and non-verbal clues in order to understand challenging material
  • Use their own study skills to investigate areas of linguistic and cultural interest
  • Be curious about how language works and show an interest in form for its own sake.

All of these skills are an integral part of any schools efforts to improve their students own independent learning. The partnership have recognised that using film for the basis of a writing and/or oral assessment task will help to make students stand out. It can help with transition issues to the sixth form through using year 11 to strengthen target language skills. There was a concern amongst some of the linguists about using film being seen to become contaminated by “off-syllabus” fears, yet it is clear that MFL is a subject that lends itself very well to extension beyond the syllabus. Film clearly helps pupils to appreciate the cultural conventions in other countries through direct visualising and through different audience expectations. It provides an authentic background and can inform pupils about contemporary events in the country of their target language, and gives a great opportunity for personal engagement and discussion. All of this both supports the skills outlined above, and in addition, can help to develop student confidence as well as independence.

How can using films develop independence at GCSE and A level and beyond?

Seeing the value of languages in practical contexts is hugely significant in encouraging learners to make positive choices to study languages as well as in challenging the negative perceptions that some may have. Using film encourages an authentic approach which when supplemented by high challenge activities creates a far greater engagement with the cultural context.

It is interesting to study the difference between British and European cultures through the medium of film but it is useful not just for cultural topics, but specifically for developing listening skills and hearing authentic language rather than reading prescribed vocabulary lists, something that is demanded more at A Level. Watching a film in the target language and then discussing it in the target language is developing all of a student’s language skills.

In addition to using film to teach more traditional language skills, flexibility within the curriculum at Key Stages 4 and 5 now provides the opportunity to make far greater use of film as a resource for learning than has previously been practical.

Consider examples of films appropriate to GCSE French. Responding to and exploring challenging issues seen through films, such as cultural identity, intolerance and racism (Entre Les Murs); surrealism, solitude, parental relationships and nostalgia (Amelie), war, religion and anti-Semitism (Au Revoir les Enfants) can provide an often much-needed injection of realism and challenge into learning in languages, which in turn can support students in their thinking outside of the demands of the curriculum, and stimulate both motivation and independent thought.