¡Hola! Bonjour! As GCSE season approaches, I’d like to share another revision tips post. I am, in fact, currently revising Spanish so this is very relevant to my daily life.
I know many people take modern foreign languages for GCSE, whether that be Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, or anything else. Revising for languages can seem intimidating, and so I’m here to provide you with some starting points. I also want to reassure that you do not have to be completely fluent to achieve the grades you want at GCSE, or to communicate with people from another country. It’s all a matter of taking small steps to get there, wherever ‘there’ might be for you.
So, for some context I took Spanish GCSE and am now taking it at A-Level. Although this will be based on my experience revising for Spanish, I also believe that many of the strategies can be applied to other modern languages too. These are the strategies that work best for me, but as always keep in mind that all our brains work differently so if a certain method doesn’t work for you then it’s not a problem! You can try another!
The GCSE exam is split into four parts, so it makes sense to split your practice into four broad categories: reading, writing, listening, and oral.
However, before it comes to practising these skills, it’s important to revise the foundations of the language — grammar, vocab, and subject content. I prioritise basic grammar (such as being able to use verbs in different tenses) and vocabulary over everything. Both of these central pillars are important in EVERY aspect of the exam.
But how exactly can you revise these elements of the language? My favourite resource for studying up on grammar is languagesonline.org.uk. (They also have French, German and Italian) Before doing anything else I like to go through the most important tenses to refresh my memory. If you struggle with figuring out how to form a tense I would definitely recommend spending some time looking at the present, preterite and future. You can do a few exercises each day and then come back to them later. With languages, I find that spreading out your practice often helps it stick in your memory more than trying to cram everything in during one concentrated session. I also used the Viva Edexcel grammar and translation workbook for Spanish which is excellent.
There’s just too much vocab to learn — how can you make a meaningful start on it? Of course, learning vocab throughout your course will prove very useful. But it’s OK, there’s still time! Instead of attempting to work from the whole 1,500 word vocab list for the entire GCSE (or whatever it is), I went through the textbook and created a Quizlet set for all the words that I didn’t know and thought were the most important. This left me with three sets of 100-200 words which grouped the modules together. I love Quizlet because whenever I’m on the train, waiting in the lunch queue etc I can revise a little bit of vocab and get just that little bit further.
I know that many people (myself included) find language orals very nerve-wracking. The degree to which you prepare your oral answers is up to you — in the new exam board we did, they penalised us for sounding too prepared which I absolutely understand. However, if you’re not confident I’d advise doing at least a little practise of some questions, especially for the roleplay, even if that’s practising improvisation. (Which in the end is better for learning to speak the language!)
I did prepare some answers, but tried to focus on learning content I might have to bring up, like where I did my work experience, rather than on the language. I do think it’s a decision you have to make based on your experiences and fluency in the language though.
I would absolutely recommend trying to listen to some non-exam-based Spanish because I found that it really helped not only my listening but my speaking. By forcing me to ‘think’ more in Spanish rather than constantly translating and thus not speaking so well. In particular, I like the Notes in Spanish podcast and News in Slow Spanish. This could also include TV shows or Youtube videos — hopefully there’s something you’ll find interesting.
Finally, speaking in the language with your friends is a fun way to not only be building up your language skills but also having fun! Even if it’s not the most beautiful complex language, I find that talking to my friends is a very relaxed atmosphere where I can build up my confidence.
So, to recap some concrete strategies you might use whilst revising, you could be:
- Going through the textbook, noting down important content and unknown words
- Going through grammar on languages online or in a grammar workbook
- Revising vocab on Quizlet
- Doing a mock oral card, recording yourself and listening back
- Going through the oral answers and speaking them to yourself or someone else
- Doing practise listening/reading exercises from the textbook
- Building up listening skills by watching TV, listening to podcasts etc.