How To Choose A School For An Enthusiastic Linguist

By Anoop Bhuller

7 months ago

Our experts offer advice on choosing the best school for an enthusiastic linguist, by Eleanor Doughty

Map of the world and dictionaries

The Panel:

Andrew Hunt

Head of languages, Whitgift School

Catherine Liaudet

Head of modern languages, Sevenoaks School

Sergei Drozdov

Head of modern foreign languages, Lancing College

Fabienne Collombon-Branson

Head of French, Queen’s Gate School

What is the most popular language for students and why? Spanish is most favoured at Whitgift – there is a perception that it is easier than the other languages. But all of our languages are popular; in terms of the combination of languages studied, it is Spanish, Chinese and Latin, as everyone here does three languages when they start in year 7. Andrew Hunt

What modern careers can linguists explore?
In today’s world, having a language under your belt is fantastic and will definitely help you to open many doors. Possible careers include journalism, consultancy, marketing, the diplomatic services, teaching, interpretation and translation. One of our recent students did Russian at IB Standard Level before studying finance at university where he did a module in Russian. When he got a job he was told that he had got it because he had Russian skills. Catherine Liaudet

What is your favourite language to teach and why? German – though I am biased as I am a Germanist. English has many similarities with German which makes it easier to learn. It’s a logical language with patterns and rules – if you have learned your rule and if you remember the pattern you will get to your answer. It is a phonetic language which makes it easier to learn in comparison to French. Sergei Drozdov

How do you support children whose first language is not English, such as Ukrainian refugees? As a school we provide specialist support to those girls, and in French lessons, for example, they often do really well. I’ve got a couple in year 7 and as everybody is a beginner, it’s not a big problem if they don’t speak so much English because of what I am teaching them. Any girl who is a native French speaker is taught separately from year 7 on a native speaker curriculum, and takes French IGCSE at the end of year 9. Fabienne Collombon-Branson

How do you use technology in language labs? Technology does play a part, but is best used during independent work at home, to light the fire and trick them into engaging more with the language. For GCSE, role-play students use a virtual reality headset and have conversations. Andrew Hunt

Should all pupils learn a compulsory modern language until 16 or 18? I think languages should be compulsory in all schools until GCSE. At A-level, though, it should be a personal choice as to whether students would like to continue with a language. Sergei Drozdov

Lancing College pupils walking down school steps

Lancing College, West Sussex

Mandarin or Russian – which is more useful and easier to pick up? Mandarin is a strategic choice and a useful language, fascinating too in terms of cultural enrichment. In terms of difficulty, Mandarin is harder than Russian. In Russian, the alphabet is Cyrillic, but once you know the letters you can read it and it’s not hard. In Mandarin there are characters, and to be able to read it you need to have learnt that specific character. Fabienne Collombon-Branson

What opportunities are there for study abroad? Plenty – we run many school trips, which we call study trips or cultural trips. We also organise traditional exchanges as we believe that they are the best way to get the students out of the classroom; the school we work closely with in Spain has just been named best school in the country. It’s so much more relevant when students experience the language in the country, it just makes everything click. Catherine Liaudet

Do you recommend studying languages at university? Yes, frequently – it’s a fantastic degree! It has the benefit of being interesting and varied, and it’s a fantastic springboard for all sorts of careers. We have upwards of 20 boys a year who leave here to do languages at university. Andrew Hunt

Is there still a place for Latin or Greek? Yes, definitely, and like any language, the earlier you start the better – both languages give you a great skill. We offer Latin to A-level, and though we do not have the demand for Greek on the timetable, we offer it off-timetable as a co-curricular activity. Sergei Drozdov

Are you able to offer unusual languages? Because we are an IB school all students have to do a language all the way through and we offer French, Spanish, German, Russian and Mandarin. We also offer Italian as an additional course in the sixth form which students find attractive because they don’t do it in lower school, and other languages for those who speak it as a mother tongue – Dutch, Japanese and Hindi, for example – as Sevenoaks is a very international school. Catherine Liaudet

How can you advance students with a natural aptitude? We have an ambitious programme of enrichment activities, all of which are very motivating for the girls, from exchange programmes with French schools to film clubs for both sixth formers and those in years 7-9, and trips to the French Institute. We take part in debating competitions too – every year in February the Central London French Debating Competition is held at St Paul’s Girls’ school, and we take part whenever we have girls who want to do it. We also run a French Scrabble club which works very well. Fabienne Collombon-Branson

'Hello' written in different languages

‘Hello’ written in different languages (Image: Getty)

Last Word From The Foreign Office

Some students will want to do two modern foreign languages at GCSE – it’s great that they love languages but we don’t want them to narrow down their curriculum too early. We want everyone to enjoy their language lessons and pick something that they will find valuable. Catherine Liaudet

Parents are always keen for their children to do languages, knowing it’s an asset – it’s the girls who decide not to continue with them – as their parents really want their kids to speak one or two foreign languages. Fabienne Collombon-Branson

Parents often ask whether a pupil can study a combination of two different languages, and we try to accommodate as many requests as possible. Any language is a great language to learn – I might be biased promoting German, but Russian is my first language. Sergei Drozdov

At options evenings, I always say to boys that there are only two things adults regret from school – not learning a musical instrument, and not learning a language properly. Andrew Hunt