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The School offers French, Spanish and Italian to A2 level. Teaching takes place in a suite of rooms which enjoy the usual range of audio visual aids including Smart Boards with PC and data projector. All boys are expected to study at least one modern language to GCSE level.

All pupils are encouraged to avail themselves of self-assessment programmes in the computer centre and to access current affairs relevant to the language being studied via the internet as well as other more traditional avenues.

Every encouragement is given to boys to visit the country of the language studied. It is felt that staying with a family or work experience is an excellent way of improving understanding and communication. Regular cultural visits and experiences go some way to whetting the appetite for individual exploration and a widening of interests.


French is compulsory in Years 7, 8, and 9 and an option thereafter; classes are set by ability. We use ‘Encore Tricolore – Nouvelle Edition’ as our main text book. Results are among the best in the school.

The emphasis at this level is on the communicative aspects of the language, although we require our pupils to have a sound grammatical knowledge too; this of course will be a central demand of the new specifications. Cultural awareness is not ignored, as it is an important ingredient of learning the language, whatever the level.

In the sixth form pupils move on to the AS course which, while a rewarding course in terms of the areas of study and the linguistic standard attained, demands enthusiasm, hard work and a willingness to spend time in France or a French-speaking country ‘honing’ one’s skills.

After sitting the AS examination, boys may choose to continue their studies in order to take the full A level qualification. The A2 component develops the skills tested previously, allowing a knowledge of the language and its context which is more sophisticated than that possible at AS level.

French is becoming more and more popular as a choice of subject at University, often combined with another language or such subjects as marketing, business, economics and so on.


Though traditionally and increasingly in the shadow of its Iberian sister language Italian has always had a loyal following at the Oratory since its introduction some thirty years ago. The subject has tended to appeal to those pupils who already have a connection with the Italian world, whether through parentage, a family home, business or a Maltese background, but many who have started ab initio have gone on to achieve significant success in the language. Students of Italian tend to be enthusiasts for all aspects of Italian culture and enjoy the status of unofficial ambassadors of the country among Italians themselves. Those who continue to AS and A2 Level regularly secure places at good universities, combining their linguistic interest with a range of other disciplines, and their qualifications are often sought after by employers with an interest in Italy where, it must be said, fluency in English is not especially widespread.

GCSE Italian

Italian is available already in Form 3, offering pupils a full three years to reach the required standard before sitting the GCSE exam. No prior knowledge of the language is expected. The course comprises the following broad topics:

  • Everyday activities
  • Personal and Social life
  • The World around us
  • The World of Work
  • The Wider World

These are tested in four papers at either Higher or Foundation Level, or a combination of the two to suit a candidate’s particular strengths. The skills examined are:

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Reading
  • Writing

The current textbook is Amici which aims to have the class speedily gaining confidence in speaking and writing Italian. The boys are also given plenty of additional learning material including Easy Readers, the use of IT and further grammar to help them obtain greater knowledge and depth to their language skills.

At the end of March, boys from the Fifth Form Italian GCSE set are taken to Italy. During the four-day stay in Rome last year, the boys were given special coaching by a native Italian teacher to help prepare them for their oral exams. These lessons took place every morning and in the afternoons the boys took part in planned excursions in and around Rome and visited The Colosseum, The Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica and other places of interest. The boys found this of great interest as well as being culturally rewarding.

Sixth Form Italian

In an average year 30-40% of boys continue to AS and A2 Level, enjoying the challenge of the more authentic – if more demanding – language material the specifications include. The AS course is made up of three elements:

  • Listening and Writing
  • Reading and Writing
  • Oral Topic

The last on the above list sees candidates give a presentation in Italian on an issue of their choice, followed by a gentle grilling from their teacher. The inevitable North-South divide has been popular, as have films such as ‘Il Postino’; the very specific (e.g. the projected bridge linking Sicily and Calabria) can be especially fruitful.

A2 pursues the same skills to a higher level and offers an additional literary option. Classics by Dante, Pirandello and Moravia are available, alongside topical modern novels including the curiously titled ‘Volevo I Pantaloni’.

More senior boys need little encouragement to enlist for the annual Easter tour south of the Alps. These trips endeavour to combine serious study in the mornings with broadly cultural activities after lunch. Recent visits have taken parties to Florence and Perugia, with excursions to Siena, S.Gimignano and Assisi, and with the Perugina chocolate factory and a Serie A match between Fiorentina and Brescia as sweeteners.


At the Oratory, Spanish is offered as an option in the Third Form and a high percentage continue onto GCSE, and then AS and A2 in small, enthusiastic classes. Naturally everyone is encouraged to spend some time in Spain, preferably with a family, although some opt for a language course or an exchange.

Recently, there have been trips organised to Puerto de Santa María in Cádiz province, and this year we will be going to Salamanca during the Easter break for intensive speaking classes.

The Examination Board used for all levels is AQA. Further information may be obtained from www.aqa.org.uk. A topic is chosen for A2 instead of a literature paper. Recent work has included the play “Bodas de Sangre” by García Lorca and the Spanish Civil War.

Language Trips

The Department runs trips annually to various destinations. In the past the staff have accompanied boys to Normandy to visit the World War Two landing beaches, been on work experience trips to Paris and St. Malo in a joint trip with Queen Anne’s School, visited Bilbao and spent a week at Gaztalueta School and been on short trips to Madrid, Toledo and Barcelona.

In October 2013, the French Department took a group of twenty-six boys from years 5, L6 and U6 to Montpellier for a five-day visit. After intensive French lessons in the morning, the boys enjoyed a variety of cultural activities in the afternoon and spent the evening with their host family.

The Italian Department runs a similar visit to Rome at the end of the Lent term, in conjunction with Classical Civilisation, and in a new venture the Spanish Department hopes to go to Andalucia to sample the delights of such evocative cities as Granada, Cordoba and Seville.

If the idea of a school trip does not appeal, The Modern Languages Department can help boys to organise their own visit, whether for a simple home stay or a more educational purpose.

James Berkley MA, BA, PGCE(QTS) 

Head of Modern Languages