Modern Languages Overview
The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
Tongue-tied Britons must stop relying on English and learn more foreign languages in an effort to boost exports.
Kathryn Hopkins, reporting in The Times on the latest report from the British Chambers of Commerce, June 2013

Why learn languages?

Why learn languages? What a ridiculous question!

  • Are you not embarrassed by your inability to communicate when you travel?

  • Why on earth would you not want to be able to express yourself around the world?

The Modern Languages Department at Eltham College is rooted in the principle of choice. No one language is given priority simply because of the number of people who speak it.

We believe in options, maximum exposure, challenge and diversity.

The British Chamber of Commerce reports are no surprise to us. In a survey of almost 5,000 British business owners, they found that 57 per cent speak no German and 65 per cent no Spanish. In fast-growing markets outside the eurozone the situation is more acute, with 95 per cent of business owners having no knowledge of Russian or Chinese. Only 5 per cent of business owners are able to speak French fluently enough to do business in French.

You can learn all of these languages at Eltham College.

The Modern Languages Department believes that knowledge of any foreign language is about so much more than a skill which may equip you in your working life. What about the pupils who take languages only to GCSE?

  • Languages teach you about culture, art, cinema, sport, cuisine, music, history, and philosophy.

  • Our teaching and learning invites pupils to be responsive, thoughtful, creative and collaborative.

  • A language teaches you how to think.

  • You learn how to prepare arguments succinctly, how to express your points persuasively and, above all, how to relate to people who may think differently from you.

  • Language learning may involve time spent abroad, so you learn how to adapt and how to become more tolerant.

  • You will also acquire a far better understanding of your native language and how it works.

What more could you want?

Do you do trips?

This is always the first question prospective parents ask us on Open Days. The Languages Department runs the largest number of trips in the school.

There is an exchange or study trip for both GCSE and A level European languages.

In recent years we have visitied Mexico, Cuba, China, Laval, Paris, Bordeaux, Barcelona, Valencia, Salamanca, Berlin, Minden, Nuremberg and others.

What languages are taught?

The Lower School Curriculum is based on the principle of exposing the boys to as wide a range of different languages as possible. GCSE choices are made at the end of Year 9, enabling the boys to choose the language to which they are most suited.

Year 7

In Year 7, all boys learn both French and Mandarin. French is taught in forms; there are parallel Mandarin sets for beginners and for the boys who have already learnt Mandarin at Eltham College Junior School.

Year 8

In Year 8, boys begin to learn German and they also choose to continue with another two languages out of French, Mandarin and Latin.

Year 9

In Year 9, there is an option to start Spanish. The boys must now choose three languages to study from French, German, Latin, Mandarin and Spanish


The GCSE courses begin in Year 10, when all boys must study at least one modern language. There is also an option to do a two-year GCSE course in Russian as a second foreign language. 

Sixth Form

Language numbers are healthy and the take-up at A level does not tally with reports from the press of dwindling numbers and bleak futures.


There is a Japanese club which meets once a week to further enrich the modern languages programme at Eltham College.

How are languages taught?

Pupils use the full range of modern teaching methods.

  • Collaborative work and bilingual work with our partner schools from France and Germany is a key feature of the languages calendar.

  • We have our own computer room with all the latest language learning software and the interactive packages which accompany the course books.

  • Teachers make full use of international journalism and European broadcasts, webcasts and podcasts to keep their lessons topical, fun and accessible.

  • The Language Assistants play an essential part in A level teaching, as each pupil receives additional, individual tuition.

Higher Education and Careers

The language departments have a great number of former pupils studying languages at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Linguists are valued in all areas of employment. Some become authors (J.K. Rowling), Illusionists (Derren Brown) and Hollywood superstars (Kate Beckinsale). Many others become lawyers and bankers; they work in the City or in creative industries such as journalism and advertising.

There are no limits for the linguist.

For more information please see our individual subject pages.