Modern languages

King Edward’s is a thriving, multi-lingual community whose cultural roots extend around the globe. Now, more than ever, languages are set to play an important role in future careers, and by studying another language, boys are equipping themselves to play their part in an increasingly mobile, open, multi-lingual world. Furthermore, each new language becomes a passport to discovering another country, its culture and its people, opening the door to adventure and greater self-knowledge, and teaching boys to approach the foreign and the unfamiliar with humility and respect.

The Modern Languages Department is the largest in the School and teaches French, German, Spanish and Italian. Facilities include large, well-equipped classrooms, a state-of-the-art language laboratory and dedicated space for one-to-one and small-group tuition with our foreign language assistants, all of whom are native speakers.

All boys are taught French from Year 7 to Year 9 and it is the medium through which we teach the basic skills of language learning. French is a rich and versatile language that gives boys access to at least three neighbouring countries, nations with which we have had close cultural links for hundreds of years. It is also a great training ground on which to learn grammatical accuracy, listening skills and accurate pronunciation. In Year 9, boys add a second language, either German or Spanish and at the end of the academic year decide whether to take one or two languages through to IGCSE.

  • Sixth Form

    It is beyond IGCSE that the study of a foreign language comes into its own. The IB Diploma enables us to offer a range of courses in all four languages, from Ab Initio (beginners) to Higher Level. All boys study at least one modern or classical language as part of their Diploma.

    The Standard and Higher Level courses in French, German and Spanish provide the opportunity not only to improve and expand on language skills, but to study a fascinating range of topics. From the outset, boys will encounter the language as it is used in real life in authentic texts and by native speakers. They will test their wits and skills in unfamiliar territory and begin to explore society, literature, current affairs, song, cinema, theatre, history and geography through the prism of another language and culture.

    The Ab Initio courses in French, German or Spanish introduce boys to a new language and take them to a level comparable to IGCSE in just five terms. The focus is on learning to perform more basic, functional tasks than those encountered at Standard or Higher Level, but the pace is just as demanding. By the end of the Diploma, boys should be able to speak the language well enough to start exploring it for themselves and develop their competence further if they need to.

    Our exam results are amongst the best in the country at all levels and our very best linguists go on to study modern languages at top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge.

  • Beyond the classroom

    Our language exchanges are well established with schools in Grasse on the French Mediterranean coast, Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca and Dorsten in Germany. All IB pupils are encouraged to take part and most boys who do so report an increase in confidence and fluency when they return. Depending on demand and availability, we also take older boys abroad for a week of total immersion in European language schools.

    Our thriving Modern Languages Society, run by the boys with staff support, provides an informal setting in which pupils of any age can further their language learning and explore something new. Two of its most popular activities are the masterclasses, which are given by bilingual pupils in some of the 108 languages spoken in Birmingham, and the visits of Old Edwardians, who talk about their experiences of studying languages at university or using them in professional life.

  • Other languages?

    We are occasionally asked why we don’t teach an even wider range of languages, including Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, or some of those widely spoken in Birmingham such as Urdu, Panjabi or Bengali. There are currently almost 7,000 living languages, of which about 6% have more than a million speakers each and collectively account for 94% of the world population. We cannot predict which of those thousands our pupils will need in the future, but we do know that learning a language as an adult is easier if you have been well-trained in the skills of language acquisition.

    That is what we set out to do. Through the medium of four European languages, which are close enough in vocabulary and structure to English to be easily accessible to young English speakers, we teach boys how to learn a language and learn it well. We instil confidence and clarity in communication and the courage to take risks in company. We emphasise attention to detail, careful listening and logical argument. By the time they leave King Edward’s, boys are equipped to apply these skills to any language, however challenging, and thus to push open doors of opportunity that are closed to the unadventurous, the timid or the monolingual.


German exchange trip gallery

View our German exchange trip to Dorsten

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