A-Level languages: the keys to success

A levels in modern languages are notoriously difficult. For non-natives it can be hard to attain the top grades when so many native or bi-lingual speakers take the A-level as an additional CV boost or easy A*. Nevertheless, taking languages can be incredibly fun and rewarding and will give you a skill for life that can be applied every day. As someone who took two foreign language A levels and got an A* in both without being a native speaker in either, I am going to break down some of the ways which I found useful in achieving high grades.

The Number one most important thing for me was about mindset. Whereas some A-levels can feel like box ticking exercises or an accumulation of irrelevant, soon-to-be forgotten facts, modern languages are useful tools which can help you socialise and communicate with others in every day life. For me I never set out to do languages to get a specific grade but because it meant that I could much more easily chat to other young people when abroad or watch foreign films without subtitles. Speaking another language is exciting and you should see it as such! Visiting the country that you are learning the language of can help to show that the verbs you have been tediously repeating in the classroom have a real-life use. So enjoy your language learning in the knowledge that what you do in the class might well end up being put into practice in a conversation with a spaniard at bar on the weekend.

The next piece of advice I always give is to not leave it all to the last minute. While some other content heavy subjects can be crammed at the last minute, when it comes to language studies there is no substitute for just being very good at the language come exam time. By being consistent over two years, you will gain a strong grasp of your target language(s). There is no way that linguistic ability can be progressed rapidly over a short revision period so if you get to your final term and realise that you have not invested in learning the language you will be in trouble.

Being good at the language is easier said than done. That said, there are some relatively easy and entertaining ways to improve your listening and comprehension skills without sitting down and conjugating verbs over and over. Netflix is an absolute goldmine for foreign film and tv and watching in French (with French subtitles) is an excellent way to broaden your vocabulary and improve your listening skills. Similarly, radio is excellent for getting a daily French fix but there are also online resources like LanguageGym which make the process of mesmerising verbs slightly less painful.

Language Gym - Home

When the exams come round, it can be easy to panic. The number one thing to remember in your speaking and listening exams is not to attempt to write or say things that you have not attempted before. Try to create sentences that you know will gain marks which can be manipulated into different contexts easily. E.g “bien qu’il soit … je n’auras jamais dû …” The sentence works with many different situations and yet manages to combine two relatively difficult structures to get you plenty of marks. Another mistake that students make is attempting to guess words or spell words they are not sure of in an exam. If you are not certain that the word is correct or if the sentence makes sense, re-think how you say it and express yourself in a way that you know is correct. There is always another way of saying what you mean. Accuracy is key and it will keep you in the higher grade brackets.

Overall, try not to be intimidated. Learning a language is something that many people do as a leisure activity so make sure you enjoy it. Take every opportunity you get to speak it and try to make the most of your new skills in your day to day life. Speaking another language is like having a superpower and who wouldn’t want to make the most of that. The more you use your language to watch programs and to speak to people around you, the more interesting you will find it and the more your ability will increase and once you learn to speak the language to a high level, the A-level will be a walk in the park.

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