Preparing your Child for Foreign Language Oral Exams

In the UK, children start studying a foreign language at the age of 11. Yet by 14, many have given up on the subject completely. Why? Well, research suggests a big factor is that students perceive good grades to be less attainable in languages compared to other subjects. However, this need not be a reality for your child. After all, the ability to speak a second language will provide a great boost to their confidence and future career prospects. So, how can you help them prepare for their foreign language oral exams?

The good news is that there are many interactive tools available to support your child in learning to speak a new language, enabling them to have fun as they go. Here are my top picks…

1. Gus on the Go

Gus the friendly (and incredibly cute!) owl makes learning languages a fun experience in this this app, which features 10 interactive lessons, engaging vocabulary reviews and games. It’s available in 28 different languages.

2. Netflix’s Language Learning

Netflix’s Language Learning is a Chrome extension which allows learning of language from films and series of programmes. The ability to compare a translation with the audio (sound) and written word means your child can absorb a lot in a quick timescale. It also enables learning at their own pace and provides time to digest more challenging phrases.

3. Memrise 

With the Memrise app, your child can practice specific words or phrases at a time, loosely connected by topic areas and focusing on practical words and phrases. The ability to watch videos of native speakers will help your child to master pronunciation, especially for those difficult words.

A major plus point of Memrise is that it makes language learning fun, with a focus on learning through gaming, known as gamification. The use of memes to help memorise vocabulary is also helpful.

4. Duolingo

One of the most popular language learning apps, Duolingo was created by native speakers and again uses gamification to make language learning fun and addictive. Users earn points for correct answers in a race against the clock. The app is available in 24 different languages.

Online learning platforms, media and apps can provide excellent support for children preparing for oral language exams for their GCSEs and A Levels. They make language learning more accessible and easier to take at your child’s pace. And perhaps most importantly, they provide a fun and light-hearted learning environment suited to their learning style preferences.

On Monday 15th April, fire gripped the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The world watched in horror as the spire, made famous by novelist Victor Hugo in his Gothic novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, collapsed amidst the flames.

Talking to The Guardian newspaper, the city’s former mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, was unable to hide his emotion, describing the destruction of the cathedral as “an inestimable loss.” Many of his fellow French citizens share his feelings, though the damage could have been even worse. Notre Dame has been both physically and symbolically important to France ever since it was built, and to see the destruction wrought upon it by the flames has been painful.


Positioned at the eastern end of the Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame was first commissioned by King Louis VII. He wanted it to become a symbol of Paris’s political, economic, intellectual and cultural power at home and abroad.

The placing of the cathedral, over the ruins of two older church basilicas, was overseen by Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris. The first stone of what was to be a massive structure some 130m long by 48m wide, is said to have been laid in 1163, in the presence of Pope Alexander III, who went on to consecrate the Roman Catholic alter in 1189. However, it took a further 200 years to complete the cathedral, with various phases of construction being spread over time due to the demands of cost.

The two massive Gothic towers (68 metres high) which define the western facade of Notre Dame were built between 1210 and 1250. They are adorned with early Gothic carvings and row of figures of Old Testament kings. The cathedral’s three famous great rose windows contain the thirteen century glass they were first built with, but it remains to be seen how much damage the fire has done to them.

The iconic central spire, the most noticeable victim of the blaze, wasn’t the original spire, but one which had been designed by Viollet-le-Duc’s and erected in the 19th century, after the original was removed in the 18th century because of instability.

This is not the first time that Notre-Dame Cathedral suffered damage. Poorly treated throughout the French Revolution, it was only saved from destruction when the Emperor Napoleon decided he wished to be crowned there in 1804. It was after this that a restoration campaign began to repair the building that had stood, watching over Paris, for so long.


Ironically, it has been during a modern period of restoration and maintenance, urgently required, that led to the fire breaking out, in the cathedral’s attic. The blaze quickly destroyed most of the roof, spire, and some of the rib vaulting; not to mention the many items of value inside the cathedral. Of these, a large number succumbed to smoke damage or were broken by falling debris, rather than the fire itself.

As work begins on making the cathedral safe enough to enter, thoughts have already turned to is restoration. Millions of pounds have already poured in from well-wishers to help to save one of Paris’s most respected landmarks, and architects have been invited to submit proposals for the designing and construction of a new spire.

Before any structural conservation can be done however, a team of archaeologists will survey the building. Talking to the BBC, Dr Kate Giles, from the University of York’s department of archaeology, explained that “Early phases of the work will include the archaeological recording of surviving fragments of timber, stone and artworks…This will enable the Notre-Dame team to salvage what can be reused and provide crucial evidence for the design of new fabrics in the building,”

Paul Binski, a History of Medieval Art professor at the University of Cambridge, added, “The upper stonework, the vaulting and the top windows, will have been baked and the temperature will have spoiled and weakened the stone. The first thing they’re going to do is a massive survey of the stone…They’re going to have to scaffold the whole building and look very closely at its condition.”

Estimated to take between five and ten years before it can be returned to the people of Paris as a place of worship, we can only wait to discover just how much of the original Notre Dame has been destroyed beneath the rubble.

The popularity of foreign language study at GCSE level in the UK appears to be on the decline. In 2002, around three quarters of pupils studied a language other than English as part of their GCSE qualifications. Two years later, the government stopped making languages compulsory at GCSE level, and by 2011, participation had fallen to 40 per cent.

The latest figures as reported on the British Council’s website in 2018, show the number of 16-year olds studying a language is 47 per cent. There’s work to be done to get this figure back to 2002 highs.

If you’ve ever studied a second language or are even currently considering learning one, you may have faced (or been put off by) challenges posed by more traditional learning methods, including a classroom filled with people of varying ability levels, experiences and personalities.

Some of the other potential pitfalls of learning a foreign language via a classroom-based fixed curriculum include dialogues being spoken too quickly, the pace of learning being focused on a timetable, and study being focused on a group’s ability rather than that of an individual. Any of these things can lead to students feeling rushed and unprepared for exams.

Beyond the Classroom

However, with the passing of time and advances in technology, there have been some interesting recent developments in online language learning. Netflix, the American media-services provider, have brought language learning to your front room, with Language Learning, a Chrome extension which allows the learning of language from films and series of programmes.

The ability to compare a translation with the audio (sound) and written word means that you are able to take in a lot of information in a quick timescale. It also enables you to go at a self-directed pace, taking one sentence at a time, allowing plenty of time to digest more challenging phrases. There’s even the bonus of a pop-up dictionary when you need to find out the meaning of more challenging words, and the Chrome extension will go as far as telling you which words are important to learn, and which can be set aside for later.

Then there’s the Memrise app, making language learning fun; with a focus on gamification and the use of memes to help memorise vocabulary. Another of the most popular language learning apps, Duolingo, was created by native speakers and also uses gamification to make language learning fun and addictive.

Online learning tools and apps provide an excellent complement to studies for qualifications such as GCSEs and A Levels. They make modern language learning more accessible, easier to take at the student’s pace and, perhaps most importantly, offer a social learning environment that provides relevancy to an individual’s interests and lifestyle.

With so many options available to study languages online, there’s certainly an exciting future for those looking to learn a new language. There are links to the Memrise and DuoLingo websites below.

Hopefully you have not left all of your revision to the last minute!  But even if you have, these tips should help you.

First things first – relax.  You cannot study well or absorb information if you are stressed. It may be last minute, but you are not out of time. And you’d be surprised at how much you can pack into your short-term memory.

Also make sure you take breaks. A common response to last-minute revision is to try and study for as long as possible. But you will remember more if you take regular short breaks and get enough uninterrupted sleep.

1.      Clock Revision

This is a tip that I first saw on TES and although it is described as a teacher activity, it is adaptable.

How it works: split topics into 5 minute chunks and make notes. That way you will only focus on the key areas and, get through  a lot of information in just 60 minutes.

This leads me to an important tip – don’t sweat the small stuff

When you are revising close to the exams, you need to prioritise on the major topics or key areas of each topic. 

2.      Identify Gaps

Instead of revising material you already know, try and identify your knowledge gaps and focus on filling them. It makes last minute revision both efficient and effective.

A good way of identifying gaps, is by using a checklist or the contents page of a textbook and ticking everything you feel confident on. That way, you can easily see areas that need more attention.

3.      Write your own Exam Paper and Mark Scheme

I love this one. The best way to know any topic is to teach it. And whilst you may not have the time or opportunity to actually teach others a topic, you do have time to write your own exam paper. 

In writing an exam paper, you will be forced to think about the topic in-line with the style of questions you will face in the real thing. The most useful part here is writing the mark scheme.

Look at sample material from your exam board and write in their style.  This will help you revise topics and improve your exam technique.

4.      Keep it Visual

A quick, and more importantly an effective way to revise, is by using visual aids like mind maps. 

Think about memory tricks and visual aids to avoid trying to remember large chunks of text or lots of terminology.

There are many ways to learn online. You can participate in online one-to-one lessons, remote classroom sessions, e-learning or a combination of all three.

Since online lessons do not lend themselves to a traditional way of teaching and learning, some people are sceptical about them. And they are entitled to be, because online courses aren’t for everyone. For most, though, it is a convenient and effective way to learn.

Is online learning suitable for you?

That’s a big question and a difficult one to answer because everybody has different learning preferences.
But, as a general guide, online learning should work well if you:
• Are organised, motivated and self-disciplined
• Have the right equipment
• Do not have serious learning difficulties
• Wish to learn a subject that lends itself to the medium. A practical course like hairdressing, for example, may not be suitable.

What are the advantages of online learning?

There is the obvious advantage of being able to work in an environment you are comfortable in without needing to travel. This is great for most learners, regardless of age. However, it is also true that for some, specific learning environments, like a classroom, work better.

Usually online courses allow you to go at your own pace. This presents an advantage for most people but particularly for mature students who may have other commitments. Since online courses have less overheads for course providers, they are often cheaper than face-to-face learning.
Aside from these specific advantages, online learning shares most of the advantages of face-to-face learning. This is because, with classroom software and even video calling software like Skype, you can do things like sharing screens. So viewing work or learning material is not a problem.
Homework can be completed and marked electronically. Since you may need to take your exam by hand, written practice can be carried out during lessons.

So, should I enrol on an online course?

The only real way to know whether it is right for you is to try a few different types of online learning. See whether you find the teaching effective. Discover if you have the discipline to see it through.
One thing, however, is always true. If you can welcome this modern learning method, you will open the doors to a wide range of learning opportunities.

Whether you are an adult learner or a teenager who is juggling multiple subjects, working efficiently and effectively can be challenging.

But it doesn’t have to be. The solution lies in being organised – specifically with your time.

Tip 1:  Use a diary system that works for you

Whether you prefer a handwritten calendar or an electronic one, think about colour coding it.

Perhaps you could assign a different colour for each subject.  Or maybe a different colour for different aspects of your life.

This is a great visual method to ascertain whether you are spending enough time on your learning, and helps you dedicate a solid part of your day to it rather than thinking ‘I’ll do that later’ and never quite getting around to it.

Tip 2:  Quality over quantity

Effective learning doesn’t depend on how many hours you put in. It depends on what you do in that time.

So when organising your learning time, don’t simply slot study periods into your diary. List what you will specifically work on during that time. This will not only help you stay on-track but also ensure that you are making steady progress in all areas that need attention.

Don’t forget to schedule in some relaxation too!

Tip 3:  Master the art of prioritising

Look ahead at your learning schedule and think about what you need to do now, and what can wait until tomorrow (so to speak).

It can be overwhelming when you have a long list of tasks – especially if you feel like all of them had to be completed yesterday. But when you zoom in, you will see that you can divide your list into manageable chunks.

This will help you actually complete your list and is a great strategy if you have a tendency to procrastinate.

Tip 4:  Spend more time on things you find hard

We all like the feeling of being successful. So when we find something difficult, we can often be tempted to avoid it. This is the opposite of what you need to do. Think about it: if you spend more time on things you find hard, they will soon become easier.

Tips 1 to 3 feed into this – if you dedicate specific time to the harder topics, and prioritise them over ones you have already mastered, your learning will be more effective.

Tip 5:  Find out when you learn best

Some of us work better in the mornings, others at night. Still others find it is easier to work in the afternoon. Find out what your own peak learning time is. It will be when you make the most progress, feel freshest and absorb learning best.

Cramming before an exam is tempting and in principle, it can be effective. But only as long as you choose your study time wisely.

In 2018 the BBC reported that over the last three years the number of children who are being homeschooled in the UK has risen by around 40%. It’s not hard to see why; for parents, ensuring their child’s schooling is top quality is vital, and home schooling is definitely worth consideration as the new school year starts. Whether you’re considering homeschooling for your little ones or terrible teens, choosing to self-teach offers the perfect method for many parents who seek a more hands-on approach in their children’s education. In the UK, as a parent you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, moving through Key Stages 1-3 and on to GCSE and potentially A-Level education.

So is homeschooling right for you? Whatever the age or abilities of your child(ren), learning from home presents many benefits. Let’s look at a few of these advantages, which may help you decide.

Avoid classroom distractions

Two of the main reasons influencing UK parents’ decision to choose homeschooling include protecting their children’s mental health and the ability to avoid exclusion. Being in a large classroom environment can present a number of challenges for children, including exposure to bullies, feelings of inadequacy from being around superior-performing peers and being singled out for being ‘different’ from other children. Many children may feel as if they simply don’t ‘fit in’. Home schooling offers a solution to avoid these situations and protect your children’s mental health and wellbeing.

One-to-one time

The chance to learn one-to-one rather than one-to-many offers many children the chance to feel fully involved and immersed in their own learning. This increases their chances of remaining engaged and interested in their studies. This also allows you, as a parent, to build a stronger bond with your child; to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work with them on these. It is attention that they may not get in a large classroom environment.

Go at their pace

Homeschooling allows your child to proceed through their education at their own pace rather than that of scheduled class. Every child is unique, with their own abilities, and these abilities may vary from subject to subject. If your child needs more help with Mathematics and less so with English, you can adjust their learning schedule accordingly.

No school run

This means more healthy sleeping patterns and time to study – you have the time to flex your child’s learning timetable around your lifestyle and circumstances. You can take holidays when you want, too. A definite win-win.

Homeschooling offers many benefits over more traditional school classroom study. It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of both options before making a decision to homeschool of course, and there are plenty of resources to do this, including the UK Government’s website, which can provide further advice.

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