Modern Languages

The study of Modern Languages enables pupils to access new worlds through personal engagement with linguistic and cultural difference. The Modern Languages Department is well known for its excellence in breadth: French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish are all taught, from beginner to university entrance level. In addition, Arabic, Hebrew and Japanese are taught in the Sixth Form from beginner to GCSE level.

The Department is located in a purpose-built Languages Centre with full audiovisual equipment, Wi-Fi, internet and interactive projectors in every classroom, including smaller rooms for oral classes. Independent learning is encouraged, facilitated by the flexibility offered by iPads throughout the Department. The well-resourced departmental library greatly enhances independent learning opportunities for our pupils.

Study visits and exchanges exist in both the Lower and Upper Schools in all the six main languages, and we have strong links with partner schools in France, Luxembourg, Germany, China and Spain. Other partnerships include outreach activities with local schools in Wiltshire and beyond, and a Spanish ‘virtual exchange’ with our sister school, Marlborough College Malaysia.

Many pupils who are interested in learning a new language, but would like to try something different, find themselves drawn to Arabic. It is the fourth most widely spoken language in the world, so it is an inviting option for pupils to fulfil their future ambitions.

Pupils have diverse motivations for learning Arabic. Some have a family link, others an academic interest; however, pupils generally hold the belief that studying Arabic will help with their future careers. As the economic influence of the Middle East continues, it fuels notable interest in the Arabic language and culture. Many Marlborough pupils who have studied Arabic have gone to prestigious universities, such as Cambridge, Oxford and Exeter, to study Arabic, often with other subjects. One of our Upper Sixth pupils was awarded a full bursary scholarship out of thousands of applicants to the New York University of Abu Dhabi, to continue studying the Arabic language and culture.

Pupils who join the Arabic classes at Marlborough study a range of topics after mastering the Arabic alphabet. Pupils are normally awarded the Marlborough College Certificate in Arabic. Alternatively, pupils have the opportunity to sit the national GCSE certificate, if their time allows. Upper Sixth pupils are also expected to publish a short children’s story, which is recorded in their own voice.

There are many compelling reasons to study Chinese. It is particularly fascinating because of its beautiful logographic characters, melodic spoken delivery and poetic phrasing. More pragmatically, Chinese is becoming an increasingly valuable asset within global relationships and dialogues.

The Chinese Department offers both ab initio and advanced programmes in Shell, catering for different linguistic levels. In Remove, pupils embark on a two-year GCSE study programme which aims to develop their Chinese language skills and equip them with the knowledge to communicate in a variety of contexts with confidence. In the Sixth Form, we offer a bespoke course, Marlborough Sixth Form Chinese Studies (MSFCS), which provides non-native speakers with a progression pathway from GCSE level Chinese to the internationally recognised HSK level 3 and 4 qualification. The course includes an Extended Project (Edexcel ZPJ3) which is taught in collaboration with the College’s EP Department. The majority of pupils who study MSFCS at Marlborough go on to pursue a degree in Chinese Studies or a related subject area. There is also an option to study Chinese at GCSE for Lower Sixth ab initio learners.

Our Chinese curriculum promotes language learning in a rich cross-cultural context which offers a wide range of language and cultural enrichment activities and opportunities. In addition to bi-annual exchange trips to China, other opportunities include visits to the China–Britain Business Council, lectures given by guest speakers and taking part in national competitions.

French is currently the most popular language choice in the Shell and a large number of pupils go on to study French IGCSE in the Remove and Hundred. In the Sixth Form, A level French opens exciting avenues of academic exploration, building on language acquisition with studies in film and literature as well as other aspects of French and francophone culture.

Pupils are encouraged to have a go at speaking in the language and this is fostered through regular small group or one-to-one oral classes from the Remove onwards, with the additional option to visit France or Luxembourg on exchange trips. For elite linguists, the immersion experience with the Lycée Vauban in Luxembourg is of particular interest, while the traditional Remove exchange is a mainstay of Lower School French, enthusing pupils of all academic abilities with a love of French language and culture. Recently, we have enjoyed fostering online connections with French schools, including sending and receiving videos and speaking live with French classes of all age groups.

Cultural activities at Marlborough abound, including participation in the Joutes Oratoires (a national debating competition), Les Amis de Maupassant (the Sixth Form French Literature and Culture Society), our Christmas Riddle Competition, our celebration of La Chandeleur and a visiting French theatre group. Advanced speakers are challenged with DELF exams, which are sat annually. We have benefitted from some excellent online speakers including a French film director, a lecturer from Edinburgh University and a chef who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants.

Our ongoing achievements, including successful Oxbridge French applications and qualifying for the national finals of the Joutes Oratoires, demonstrate the excellent standards reached within the Department.

The German Department aims to bring as much German, Austrian and Swiss culture to Marlborough as possible. We organise a scavenger hunt on German culture for the Remove and German Christmas baking for the Hundred. The Upper School enjoys the Goethe Club in which we discuss German-speaking poetry or host an Oktoberfest.

For the Remove pupils we offer an exchange with Realschule Gute Änger. Pupils will have a German exchange partner whose family they stay with for a week. They attend lessons with their partners, visit the famous castles Herrenchiemsee and Schloss Neuschwanstein, explore Munich and the Allianz Arena, and enjoy the view from the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain.

Upper School students visit Berlin biennially, staying at the German Language School (GLS). In the mornings, they attend intensive German lessons while in the afternoons they enjoy a variety of cultural trips; for example, to the Reichstag, Potsdam, Hohenschönhausen or walking along the Berlin Wall and the East Side Gallery. Additionally, Upper School pupils can stay on their own at the famous boarding school Schule Schloss Salem.

Italian has been taught throughout the school since 2010 and we are one of the largest Italian departments in the country. We are fortunate to have a number of experienced teachers and assistants, including two native speakers. Italian is a popular language choice in the Shell and typically about 20 pupils go on to study it at IGCSE in the Remove and Hundred. In the Sixth Form, the A level course provides an excellent framework for pupils to develop their language skills and, importantly, to discover Italy’s rich cultural and literary heritage, with all our pupils studying Italian 20th century history, and at least one work of literature and one film. We offer an ab initio course for Lower Sixth pupils, enabling them to reach IGCSE level in one year.

From the outset pupils are encouraged to speak in Italian, and are supported with weekly individual oral classes from the start of the Remove onwards. We aim to run an annual study trip for pupils in the Hundred to Tuscany. This combines intensive language tuition with cultural activities, ranging from Renaissance art to Italian football matches! In addition, we host an annual Shell Italian concert and lectures from visiting speakers alongside trips to talks, exhibitions and study days elsewhere.

We are particularly proud of the high proportion of our pupils who go on to read Italian at top universities. They attest to the success and inspiration of the Department as a whole.

The one-year Marlborough College Certificate course in Japanese is one of the subsidiary language options offered to those who wish to learn a new language in the Lower Sixth. The class size is typically quite small and pupils have many opportunities to focus on speaking in the language in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere with a native beak. The characteristic writing system of the language with the combination of three different sets of letters can be a challenge, so pupils are encouraged to write or read as they learn new words from the beginning of the course. Private lessons can be arranged for pupils who wish to continue learning or for pupils who have other particular demands.

Cultural experiences, from the traditional to pop culture, are deployed as much as possible in the classroom environment; traditional games, short films, quizzes and puzzles, origami and other techniques are used to assist learning and boost pupils’ interest in the Japanese language and culture. Studying Japanese can provide an insight into other Asian cultures, as well as instilling an appreciation of the diversity of modern languages in general.

For the more able and interested pupils, extensive reading of short stories outside the classroom is encouraged. Pupils choose what they would like to read, from folk stories to literary texts, that are written at the level of the language they have learnt in class.

A key objective of the Russian Department is to debunk the myth that Russian is for the linguistic elite. The study of Russian demands enquiring minds open to new experiences and an ability to move away from comfort zones. From the Shell onwards, the Russian Department seeks to nurture a love of the country, culture and language. It is hugely important on the international stage and Russian is a linguistic skill that few are currently able to take with them into the workplace. The Foreign Office announced in 2016 that there was a shortage of Russian-speaking personnel to work on the Russian desk and the demand for speakers of the language in business continues to increase.

The Russian Department is proud to send a significant number of its Sixth Form pupils to read the language at university. The Department’s vision is to produce linguists of such high quality that they will assume roles of advocacy, encouraging others to learn more about the language, the country and its rich history.

Spanish is a popular option for Shell pupils; almost seven out of ten elect to study the language for at least a year. Most arrive with little or no experience of Spanish so we provide discrete teaching sets for those who are either partial or native speakers, or those who have learnt Spanish at their previous school. Most of our Shell cohort (60%) continue their studies for the IGCSE exam two years later. The course is focused on developing the key skills of reading, listening, speaking and writing through the study of topics that relate to everyday life: home, holidays, family and hobbies.

For those who go on to study A level in the Sixth Form, the scope broadens to an extraordinary extent. Linguistic proficiency and sophistication flourish and our pupils are immersed in authentic language through Spanish film, South American literature, news articles and broadcasts. Topics range from science and religion to art and conflict. Potential university candidates receive bespoke tuition to nurture their linguistic talent.

Our foreign trips to Latin America and Santiago de Compostela, where pupils stay with local families, provide an authentic Spanish experience and add richness and colour to classroom-based study. Our enrichment programme in recent years has included cookery, Argentinian film, Latin dance classes and cinema trips.

The Shell course starts with a month of taster lessons in the six main languages: French, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Spanish. Pupils then choose two to study for the duration of the Shell.

The IGCSE courses run for two years through the Remove and Hundred, though we have facilities for native speakers and advanced learners to complete IGCSE examinations early and subsequently follow an advanced curriculum. The most able pupils in French and German are able to sit the DELF (Diplôme d’études en langue française) or Goethe-Zertifikat B1 exam concurrently with their IGCSE. This provides excellent extension work and enables the most ambitious linguists to make exceptional progress.

In the Sixth Form, all six languages follow the Edexcel A level syllabus. This embeds a thorough knowledge of the language, its grammar and vocabulary. In turn, this enables our modern linguists to achieve a high level of language competence and skill which will serve them to move on to any language course at university level worldwide. For non-specialist linguists we offer a wide range of subsidiary language options: those with an IGCSE may opt to further their language learning in the Lower Sixth with the European B1 examination in French, German or Spanish, while those wishing to begin a new language and progress in one or two years to IGCSE level may choose from Arabic, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese or Russian.

Modern Languages societies meet once or twice a term. In the Lower School events include quizzes, cookery, drama evenings, a murder mystery dinner conducted entirely in French and musical events. In the Upper School, the two literature clubs, Les Amis de Maupassant (French) and Der Junge Goethe Club (German), meet regularly throughout the year to explore literary texts and other related topics. The Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Italian societies arrange a varied programme of cultural activities. The cross-language World Book Group encourages the reading and discussion of international literature in English. International films are shown and discussed, and there are trips to the theatre or cinema. In addition, the Department values a number of collaborative events with other departments; for example, we partner with Music to deliver an event of Advent readings and music, and a Liederabend, an evening of foreign language songs.

The Department will happily assist in arranging visits abroad for all Sixth Form linguists, and the six main languages all provide the opportunity to take part in exchanges or study visits:

  • French: Remove exchange with Collège Notre-Dame de Bury in Paris and Lower Sixth exchanges with Lycée Jules-Verne, Limours and Lycée Vauban, Luxembourg;
  • Spanish: Hundred study visit to Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha and Upper Sixth exchange with Colegio Peleteiro, Santiago de Compostela;
  • Mandarin Chinese: Upper School exchange with Beijing No 8 High School;
  • German: Remove exchange with Realschule Gute Änger, Freising, Bavaria and Upper School study visit to Berlin;
  • Italian: study visit to Florence;
  • Russian: study visit to St Petersburg.