Modern Languages

Aims And Objectives

At St.Columba's College we aim to foster positive attitudes towards language learning, towards the speakers of the foreign language and towards the country in question. We help each pupil to understand and communicate confidently in a modern foreign language. Added to this, we introduce the pupils to the wide and varied cultural life of the country in question.

Our teaching centres on developing the four main skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Lessons are conducted predominantly in the target language, but with an understanding of each pupil's specific needs. We aim to involve linguists as much as possible in the learning process, thus maximising their enthusiasm and confidence. Participation is encouraged through role plays, question and answer sessions, presentations and games. All topics studied are firmly rooted in the contemporary culture of the language in question and we expect students to be able to communicate successfully with native speakers within a short period of time. High expectations are also set regarding accuracy of the written language.

Languages In The Curriculum 

All pupils are expected to carry a Modern Language through to Leaving Certificate, unless they have a specific exemption.  French is the core modern language taught throughout the school. There are four lessons per week in the junior cycle (Form Primary, Form I, Form II and Form III), and five lessons per week for the senior cycle (Form IV, Form V and Form VI).  Spanish and French are taught to Form Primary with the view to them choosing one to continue with when they progress to Form I. Those who enter in Form I choose between French and Spanish. Spanish can also be started in Form IV. Arrangements are made for other languages to be taken in the Leaving Certificate - German, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, Hungarian and Italian have been taken in the last few years.  

French is not setted in Form Primary, nor in Form 1 unless there is a clear distinction between those who have done a lot of French before and those who enter the College with no experience. In the Junior Cycle of Forms II and III there is setting with regular reviews of pupils' progress and work rate and adjustments made accordingly. In Form IV (Transition Year) the organisation of the year group is decided at the beginning of the academic year. In Forms V and VI there is setting according to ability with usually two of the three sets doing higher level Leaving Certificate and one doing Ordinary Level. There is no setting in Spanish.  

With average class sizes being in the range of fourteen to sixteen in the junior school and twelve to fourteen in the senior school there is ample opportunity for the teacher to engage the pupils on an individual level, encouraging them to communicate in the target language whenever possible and appropriate. In the Junior School, written and learning home-works are set three times a week and in the senior school at least twice depending on the level. Assessment is made by means of homework, class work, class tests, effort marks and term exams. All exams at all levels include an oral and aural component.  

ICT in ML  

Every classroom is equipped with a data-projector computer and visualiser. In addition, we have access to a computer suite. ICT is integrated into teaching. We use it for power-point presentations (staff and pupils), research, songs, grammar websites and interactive games. You Tube is a mine of archival material and the TV5 website is useful for current affairs and has an excellent section on the correct use of French.


These are extremely strong and well ahead of the national average:

For French at Leaving Certificate 2015, 80.4% of our pupils took Higher against a national figure of 57%. As a proportion of total candidates (H & O), 60.7% of our candidates scored A-B at Higher. This compares to 22.5% nationally. In Junior Certificate 2015, 76% of candidates scoreed A,B or C at higher level compared to 54.8% nationally.

In Spanish at Leaving Certificate, 63.6% of our candidates (H &O) scored A-B at Higher (27.4% nationally).

Beyond The Curriculum

Key to any language programme is experience of the country itself. To this end, we encourage pupils to participate on school trips abroad. These are considered crucial, not only on a linguistic level, but also on a cultural one; languages have to be experienced in an authentic setting with native speakers to be fully appreciated. Recent  trips include a five-day Transition Year trip to Paris as well as a week-long home-stay study visit to Salamanca in the February half-term. Every two years there is a trip to Brittany for those in Forms I and II which gives pupils the opportunity to practise their French, but also to see an area of France less travelled by tourists. Visits include: a snail farm, salt marshes (les marais salants), the Airbus factory in St. Nazaire, a WWII Blockhaus, a decommissioned submarine (L'Espadon) etc. More details are on our blog.

Nearer to home, The Modern Languages Society regularly takes groups to see the latest foreign language films and take part in cultural events. We also hold an enormously successful Language Play Evening, attended by the whole school, where pupils perform in all the languages taught at the school.  This year the Fifth form is taking part in the national joutes oratoires (debates). We award prizes for the best linguist in both Spanish and French for Junior and Senior Cycle.

In short, we hope to instil in pupils our life-long love of languages and respect for the countries in which they are spoken. We hope that the above gives you a flavour of what we do. For more information, please visit our weblog.

French At St Columba's College

Senior Cycle (5th and 6th forms)

We prepare pupils for the Leaving Certificate over a two-year course. French at LC is examined over four key areas: speaking (25%), listening (20%), reading (30%) and writing (25%). Most pupils take Higher level (80% in 2015), but we also have an Ordinary level set. Pupils have 5 lessons per week of 45 minutes each. In addition 6th formers have a weekly oral class with a native speaker. Class sizes average 13 students. Topics include: la vie des jeunes, l'éducation, la science et les progrès, les moyens de communication, les inégalités, les drogues.

Here is the structure of the Higher Leaving Certificate paper :

Section 1:             Reading                                                                     120 marks

Two reading comprehension tests (one journalistic one literary). Answers in French and English

Section 2:             Writing                                                                       100 marks

Three written pieces of between 70-120 words in length (40+30+30). This will be in a range of registers such as: formal letter (e.g. of complaint), letter to a friend, diary entry, discursive piece (arguing a point).

Section 3              Listening                                                                       80 marks

About 40 minutes long. Answers in English to a series of recordings

Section 4              Speaking                                                                     100 marks

A visiting examiner comes at the end of Hilary / beginning of Trinity term. The exam is a 13 minute conversation on a variety of topics (school, family, health, home-life, holidays, friends, social activities etc.). Pupils may also bring in a document (often a photo) as a prompt for a topic they would like to talk about.

To see previous papers, go to (exam archive section)

Transition Year (4th form)

Our TY programme aims to give pupils a wider cultural perspective of the country studied, while also honing linguistic skills in preparation for the Leaving Certificate course. So we can broadly divide the French course into two discrete but inter-dependent parts.

Language: Pupils arrive in TY with varying levels of language proficiency. Therefore it is important for individual needs to be catered for so that every linguist feels well prepared for the LC course by the end of the year. We use the text-book Tricolore Total 3. Building confidence in speaking is also central and pupils will be able to discuss in some depth a series of themes. Topics include la francophonie, le tourisme , Paris, notre monde, les vacances and la santé. We also cover a series of rôle plays to equip pupils with real life situations.

Culture: Pupils should, by the end of the year have a good knowledge of the recent history, geography, cuisine and politics of France. We also look at the arts, studying songs from artists such as Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Georges Brassens, as well as some from more recent years. Pupils are given an insight into French literature with simplified versions of stories by Maupassant, Camus and Flaubert. We also aim to cover a few short poems by Prévert, Baudelaire and Verlaine. In the Trinity term, pupils have the opportunity to conduct independent research on a topic; the top eight (Spanish and French) are then chosen to make a presentation at the TY languages evening. Other events include French breakfasts, quizzes and debates. A key part of TY is also updating the ML blog.

Junior Cycle (1st, 2nd, 3rd form)  

Class sizes average just over 15. We follow a three year course to Junior Certificate which is taken at the end of 3rdform. Pupils have 4 classes a week of 45 minutes each. We use the text-books Bon Travail 1 & 2. Topics covered include: la cuisine, le camping, les vêtements, en vacances, les animaux de compagnie, les magasins, en ville, mon emploi du temps.

Here is the structure of the Higher Junior Certificate paper:

1              Listening Comprehension               140 marks            44%

This lasts only 40 minutes but it has the highest proportion of marks of the three sections. There are five recordings in a variety of styles: weather report, news item, conversation, advertisement, personal introduction etc. Answers are in English.

2              Reading Comprehension                 100 marks            31%

Once again the text is in French and the answers are in English. The texts get progressively longer. There may be multiple choice, recipes, advertisements, news reports, celebrity profiles etc.

3              Written expression                            80 marks              25%

There are two written tasks: a post-card or message and then a formal or informal letter


Pupils will join us in Primary at a variety of levels and we aim to cater for all needs. Emphasis is placed on oral communication and building communicative confidence.


Michael O'Shaughnessy MA, (Head of Dept) French and Spanish

Fraser Morris BA, HDipEd, French

Ann Kilfeather BA, HDipEd, Spanish and French

Tristan Clarke BA, PGDipEd, French