What is A-Level Mandarin?
If you are considering studying a modern language A level at d’Overbroeck’s, it is likely that you have already studied a language at GCSE level. In some respects, doing an A level will be a continuation of what you did at GCSE. You will still practise the same skills (reading, listening, writing, speaking), learn vocabulary and grammar.
So what are the differences?
Obviously, the level. There is a big gap between GCSE and A level standards. To do well in these subjects, students need more grammar and a more extended vocabulary. Modern languages are demanding A levels.
What do you get out of it? With a GCSE, you might be able to survive in a restaurant or hotel. An A level gives you the grounding to have real conversations with real people. Quite a few of our former students have moved to France, Spain, etc. to live and work – and in some cases marry – there.
What you'll do
At first, students are often surprised at how little interested we are in their previous achievements in the subject. We do ask them what they achieved at GCSE, but as we tell them, that is no indication of how well they are going to do at A level. We tend to start again from scratch and spend the best part of the first term revising and strengthening basic vocabulary and grammar. That said, we have a very flexible approach and, with a higher standard group, we quickly move on to more advanced language. One aspect that our students particularly appreciate is the smaller oral groups, which mean they do not have to speak the language in front of twenty other students in the early stages of the course – always a daunting prospect!
A typical listening or reading exam will include short tasks (true and false, gaps etc.) and longer answers in the language studied. To perform well, you will need a wide range of vocabulary to understand the audio/printed material and express yourself, and enough grammar to structure your answers accurately. A significant part of the assessment is written (translation and essays). The oral exam gives you the opportunity to explore and talk about any topic of your choice that can be linked to the countries where the language is spoken.
Whom does this subject suit?
Modern Languages suit those who are curious to discover new cultures and ‘travel’ in the broadest sense of the word, or those who see themselves as globe-trotting businessmen! Success involves a highly disciplined attitude to memorising vocabulary on a daily basis, the ability to grasp grammatical concepts and to mimic strange sounds.
What might the subject lead to?
Modern languages are among the top A levels in terms of university application, whether you are planning to apply for a language course or many other degrees. If you are applying for a ‘mainstream’ language (French, Spanish, German, etc), a good A level grade in the same language is usually required. Indeed, quite a few of our students move on to a language degree. Interestingly, statistics provided by university language departments show that most students with a language degree do not go on to a career in which the language is the main focus (eg teaching, translating). Instead, many language graduates work in businesses, banking, etc. An A level in a mainstream language can also lead to a degree in a less popular language that you have never studied before (eg with a French A level, you can start a degree in Arabic never having studied it).
Note that a language A level for a native speaker (i.e. you are Italian and do an Italian A level) might not be taken into consideration by universities.