The OCR exam board has submitted proposals to Ofqual to develop more youth-friendly exams in MFL (Modern Foreign Languages) removing some conversational topics such as the weather, holidays and zoo visits, and instead offering topics such as tattoos and festivals.

The ability to express an opinion is very important in GCSE language exams, and this will be easier to do where the topics are a little more edgy. Teachers who were surveyed suggested to OCR that language lessons should be more relevant to young people and use more convincing settings.

Students will be asked to develop an argument on more youth-orientated topics, for example, the French exam may ask pupils to discuss: “A mon avis un tatouage discret est une expression de ta personnalité”, which means, “In my opinion a discreet tattoo is an expression of your personality.” This would replace questions that requires them to describe all the extended generations of their family, or their day at school.

OCR hope that their plans for a more modern style of teaching will help schools to recruit more young people to study modern languages. There has been a steady and alarming fall in numbers of students taking modern languages at GCSE, with a knock-on effect on the number of linguists at A-level and at University.

Employers and organisations promoting exports, such as Chambers of Commerce and the UKTI, often complain that the lack of language skills is damaging the UK’s economy. If the changes to OCR’s syllabus can engage more students and make language learning more relevant to them, both they as individuals and businesses would benefit.

“While language teachers are pulling their hair out as their student numbers decline with languages not prioritised by the current system, captains of industry are also deeply frustrated,” says Katherine Smith, who is the Curriculum Manager MFL at OCR.

These proposed changes would be implemented from September 2016.

What are your views on Modern Language teaching? If you are a student or business that finds that the vocabulary and topics students are expected to learn are outdated, boring, or not useful in a business context, do you think these proposed changes will help?