What makes the MFL curriculum so special?
The CMA French curriculum is based on the principle that anyone who is capable of acquiring a first language is also capable of acquiring a second. The principles of first language acquisition can be applied to second language acquisition by exposing scholars to frequently repeated structures both in written and spoken form and building their confidence in these structures by ‘overlearning’ them before they are asked to produce them. When vocabulary is first introduced, it is done through listening and reading activities to build scholars’ familiarity with the vocabulary and structures before moving on to production.
To reinforce this, vocabulary and structures are recycled across topics at Key Stages 3 and 4 with the topics as the vehicle for the language rather than the language being dictated by the topic being covered.
Scholars are also taught the skills they will need to successfully complete listening, speaking, reading and writing tasks that they are likely to come across. These skills are broken down into small steps and used throughout our SOWs in order to gradually develop proficiency.
Finally, while our curriculum prioritises language-learning over linguistics, we empower our scholars with the grammatical knowledge and skills to allow them to pursue further study of French or another language of their choosing. Therefore, where appropriate grammar is taught both implicitly and explicitly to our scholars following the ‘natural order hypothesis’.
How is the MFL curriculum enacted in a way that honours its beauty, richness and distinctiveness?
The cyclical nature of the MFL curriculum at CMA means that scholars are given the opportunity to really master the basics of the language structures which are regularly recycled through different topics, simultaneously allowing scholars to consolidate core knowledge and expand upon it.
As a department, we collaborate to ensure our scholars master the 20% of knowledge at the core of our curriculum. This is done during lesson time (or across a series of lessons) using frequent checks for understanding and re-teaching where necessary. We also frequently engage in the ‘review and refine’ process, whereby we assess the teaching of a particular topic or language structure to date, compare data to identify gaps in learning and refine our curriculum accordingly so that the core knowledge is prioritised for current scholars and that teaching of the same topic or language structure is improved for scholars who will be studying the same topic the following year.
In order to boost all-round confidence, our curriculum is also based on the concept of self-efficacy – activities are design to allow scholars to experience a high degree of success in both receptive and productive tasks. A high emphasis is also placed on praise and reward in MFL lessons.
To boost confidence in spoken French in particular, scholars are taught a programme of phonics instruction at KS3 to teach them common letter-sound patterns. These are ‘overlearned’ as references to phonics are made throughout our schemes of work from Y7 to Y11. They are also deliberately practised through choral repetition and reading aloud.
Finally, we prioritise the teaching of authentic materials (see below) so that scholars are exposed to at least 3 pieces of authentic material per topic.
How does the MFL curriculum equip scholars with knowledge that provides them with new ways of thinking about the world and has the capacity to take them beyond their own original experiences?
We believe that we have a moral imperative to introduce scholars to other cultures and engender intercultural understanding and tolerance. We use two broad methods to achieve this, firstly through the explicit teaching of similarities and differences between English and French/Francophone cultures, followed by whole class discussion. For example, when teaching the topic of school, we discuss how the French and English school day differs, why RE does not form a part of the French curriculum and – something that provokes a lot of discussion – the fact that French pupils do not wear uniform! Secondly, through exposing scholars to a wide range of authentic materials such as films, poems, songs, adverts and memes. In this way scholars are able to explore another culture’s art and media in a meaningful, real-world context and compare it to their own.
How does the MFL curriculum reflect intelligent interdisciplinarity, to allow scholars to explore meaningful connections?
In MFL we are always looking to draw links between our own subject and the rest of the curriculum. Clearly, there are strong links between the teaching of the French language and the teaching of English. The MFL and English departments collaborate to ensure that we are using consistent language to describe the building blocks of language. Furthermore, we are able to make links with English whenever our scholars explore a poem or an extract from a French literary text – once again we aim to ensure consistency of language in these instances.
We have also forged strong links with the History department. Both departments teach the concept of colonialism from Year 7 and scholars are able to draw upon their understanding of this from History when studying the French language and in turn, their historical understanding of this concept is reinforced through the study of French, both through regular references to the similarities between French and other Romance languages and also through reference to la Francophonie (the French equivalent of the Commonwealth.) The History department has also undertaken to teach the impact of the Norman Conquest on the English language in greater depth with support from the MFL department.
As a department, we have also taken the opportunity to explore key figures across the curriculum through the development of ‘profiles’ of important people (French-speaking or otherwise) who feature in the CMA curriculum, e.g. Eleanor of Aquitaine, William Shakespeare and Aristotle to name but a few. In this way, we hope to both develop scholars’ knowledge of personal description vocabulary and reading skills, whilst reinforcing their knowledge of these key players in other subjects.
We aim to further develop scholars’ reading skills by introducing texts in French dealing with topics from across the curriculum. For example, Year 9 scholars will be reading and answering questions on a text describing WW1, simultaneously reinforcing their overall knowledge of the topic from History and exploring an important part of French history. Other potential topics for developing reading skills include artistic movements such as impressionism, climate change and the Olympics.
Curriculum is forever and therefore, as a department, we are still looking to build links with other subjects, e.g. links with RE when discussing French religious festivals, and hope to enhance the intelligent interdisciplinarity of the CMA curriculum further.