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From bridging the gap between GCSE and A-level, to passing on a passion for language to our girls, French teacher Miss E Wood talks to us about French at Blackheath High.
Tell us about yourself
I have worked at Blackheath High for three years and teach Key Stage 3, 4 and 5. I am half French (my mother is French) and I speak the language at home. I grew up in London but because I have family in France, I spend a lot of time there. I studied French and Commerce at the University of Reading and spent a year in Toulouse as part of my year abroad. After university, I lived in Canada for five years.
Tell us about French at Blackheath High
We start studying French in Year 7 at Blackheath High and because of that, it tends to be a popular subject. Key Stage 3 is about the ability to start communicating in the language including the basic structures, numbers, tenses and how to speak about your daily life. At GCSE level, students learn how to form opinions about things that they are doing and how to express those opinions in French.
At A-level, the girls learn about culture, politics, literature and why language is important in business. We explore literature and film in detail and the girls acquire the skills to analyse and critique. A-level is about the culture and how the language can be used in the real world. Although French A-level can seem like a daunting choice because of the transition from GCSE, we try to bridge that gap by preparing our girls from an early age.
In Year 7, the focus is on more than the simple regurgitation of the language. Our girls learn how to translate accurately from an early age and there is a gradual build-up of learning rather than a big leap from one stage to the next. Instead of relying on ‘artificial’ language, we teach our girls how to really use the language when they visit France and other Francophone countries. When I studied German at school, I remember doing a lot of role plays involving questions such as ‘where is the cathedral?’. Unfortunately, unless the cathedral was on the first or second left, I could not understand the answer!
What is the benefit of learning a language?
Learning another language opens your mind to other cultures and gives you a greater world view. You achieve an openness of mind, the ability to look beyond what is in front of you and see how language can be expressed on many different levels. Our girls learn to appreciate and understand how cultures have developed.
Having another language also gives you an edge over other people in a competitive market. People like to trade in their own language and being able to provide that ease of access can only be an advantage.
What are the benefits of studying French at Blackheath?
Blackheath High teachers have a real passion for the subject, they choose to teach it because they love it. Our teachers love French and are genuinely excited about passing on that passion to the girls. We try to instil that interest and confidence in them and it is wonderful to see so many of our students continue to study languages after completing their course here. Our girls aim for the top and we are greatly privileged to have such enthusiastic and inquisitive girls that want to do well. That helps us strive to be the best that we can be.
Is there a particular aspect of the course that students tend to enjoy?
Our girls love the variety that A-level offers them, that it is not just about what they did during the holidays. The A-level curriculum includes film, literature, how to tackle environmental problems, dealing with criminality, family relationship, politics, and aspects of French history.
Every year, Year 12 and 13 participate in a French debating competition where they go up against some of the best schools in the country. Confidence is key in this competition and the girls really go for it and enjoy being on a par with the other schools.
Successful scholarship candidates also get to do a work placement in France. Although they start out being nervous and apprehensive, they come back with such confidence and enthusiasm, knowing what they are capable of doing.
It is a privilege to watch the girls grow through their language, not just learning the right tenses but also gaining an interest for the people, the places and opportunities open to them.
What do you enjoy about teaching at Blackheath High?
Teaching is the best thing that has happened to me. Teaching and working with young people is a real privilege. You see them develop and grow in school and if you are doing your job right, see them flourish. I watch our Year 7 girls start with no or little French and progress to Year 13 with such a passion for the language.