A set vocab list for MFL GCSE: a good idea? Interview with Professor Jim Milton

For just over a year, the Government has been pulling together proposals for a new MFL GCSE. Well, it assembled a panel of people of its choosing and required them all to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs).

Anyway, it has become pretty much clear that there will be some significant changes in the new GCSE, which I suspect will launch in 2022 or 2023.

Current GCSENew GCSE
Familiar topics – holidays, hobbies, daily routine, jobs, school etc
Often criticised for being unfair on lower-income learners. As well as for being boring and old-fashioned.
No topics.
Vocab lists are suggested by exam boards but the exam contains lots of words not on the vocab lists. There will be one set vocabulary list. ALL tasks in the exam will use words from this list. Anything additional will be glossed.
About 70% of the words on the vocab lists are from the “top 2000 most frequent words”.Far more of the words on the list will be from the top 2000 – probably 90%+.

All sounds good, right? We’ll know exactly what students need to learn for the exam? And they’ll learn words which are more frequently used in the target language?

Sounds too good to be true, and in fact, it is too good to be true. Ruth – a Headteacher friend – and I had a pretty revealing chat to Prof Jim Milton, vocab expert extraordinaire, about the plans. This is what he had to say:

So there we have it. Professor Milton’s verdict:

  • There is no example anywhere in the world of a vocab list being used for an MFL qualification in this way. Because it doesn’t prepare students for the real world. In the real world, speakers don’t limit themselves to the top 2000 words.
  • Focusing so heavily on the most frequent words is nowhere near as helpful as it might sound. Because students will be totally lacking the “content” vocabulary that they need to actually say anything. More successful countries teach students a fuller range of words, across the frequency bands, so that they can say things which actually have meaning.
  • The number of words being proposed isn’t enough for students to feel able, communicative, confident. If Government were serious about students reaching the level that GCSE claims to be, they’d be upping the number of words.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s