Please Mind the Platform Gap: Choosing a Third Language in Junior College

by Alex Tan (16S03B) and Gladys Lim (16S03K)

Disclaimer: This article covers only French, German and Japanese, as these are the only subjects offered as third languages at H2 level. Furthermore, while this article has been researched to the best of our abilities, it should not be used as a substitute for formal academic counselling.

Perhaps you’re pondering your JC subject combination, debating the pros and cons of taking the subjects you might be interested in. Perhaps you’ve breezed through your Third Language for the past four years but are still having second thoughts about studying it at H2 level. Perhaps you’re unsure about the level of difficulty at which H2 is pitched and are uncertain about your own ability to cope with a Third Language subject in JC, but are reluctant to renounce the subject after four whole years of studying it. If you’ve ever harboured thoughts of taking a Third Language in RI, then this article is for you!

Why should I take a Third Language?
Reason #1: It unlocks opportunities

  • Taking a third language in JC presents you with many practical benefits, especially if you are thinking of going abroad for your studies. Learning a language of the particular country would allow you to more comfortably adapt to its way of life. Being fluent in a country’s language definitely gives you more ground to apply to study there!
  • Furthermore, you will be given the exclusive opportunity of applying for the Language Elective Scholarship, which gives you an allowance of $1000 per annum, coupled with an immersion trip to the country itself.
  • You will also likely have an edge over others when it comes to applying for scholarships! Although this is not to say that the language you take up will determine the success of the application, but rather that taking a foreign language in itself is a good advantage, and could potentially be a differentiating factor: speaking an additional language is a very useful and practical life skill to have, and definitely makes you a more interesting person.
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Source: BrainScape

Reason #2: Your mind will be refreshed and challenged (in preparation for A levels)

  • There are obvious cognitive benefits to learning a new language or improving your competency in a language. Through discussing current affairs and social issues using a different linguistic framework, it shapes your critical thinking skills, shakes you out of your comfort zone, expands the number of ways to critically think about and express the same thought or viewpoint. What you learn in Third Language classes – not only the content knowledge, but the skills of thinking, reading and writing – will definitely be useful for GP! Just think about how third language hones your perseverance in reading material that is barely comprehensible. Truth be told, there is a simple pleasure in knowledge for the sake of knowledge, in having access to a new culture and learning more about the world.
  • For Glen Lim (16S06J), taking H2 German has not only become a “defining trait”, it has cured him of his “Chinese-induced language-learning aversion”. Similarly, Heather Heng (16S03B) says that through taking H1 French, she has gained “an increase in knowledge and sensitivity to language, even to other languages”.
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Last year’s H2 French class in Rambouillet, a suburb on the outskirts of Paris! (Photo courtesy of Leong Jia Qian)

Reason #3: It widens your social circle and opens your mind to new people

  • Because each H2 Third Language class is composed of people from different junior colleges, you will have a diverse range of friends to meet and mingle with. As a result, you will meet many sorts of people: all-rounders who excel in 5 H2 subjects; people with strange, otherworldly subject combinations; people who are different and unique! This will allow you to be more open and experience friendships with people you otherwise would not have met.
  • Glen says that “Taking H2 German has let me meet many people whom I otherwise would not have known, people other than the Science RA people I normally hang out with in school, who share my love for the language.”

Reason #4: You may get to go overseas

  • As mentioned in Reason #1, taking H2 Third Language gives you the opportunity to travel overseas to the native country of your language under MOE’s Language Elective Programme (LEP), a scholarship that awards you with $1000 per annum to subsidise your overseas trip. The applications for this open sometime in the middle of the academic year, and include a selection process and interview.

However, H2 Third Language is most certainly not a bed of roses. Firstly, two days out of your entire school week will end at 7.30pm. Coupled with your other CCA commitments, this may become strenuous and exhausting. You should consider if the CCA you want to join has a schedule that clashes with your Third Language schedule. Also, as mentioned earlier, the significant differences between secondary school Third Language and H2 Third Language necessitate that you have strong basics! Considerably less class time is spent on grammar. But fret not – your teachers should be very approachable and willing to help you if you are willing to help yourself.

What is taking a Third Language in JC like?
H2 Third Language lessons take place twice a week, from 5.30–7.30pm, at the MOE Language Centre (MOELC) at Bishan. However, it should be noted that the hours and days vary from language to language and from year to year. H2 French lessons for this year’s J1 batch took place on Mondays and Thursdays; German lessons on Wednesdays and Fridays; Japanese on Mondays and Thursdays.

This should not be a major cause for concern. Due to the small class sizes, it is possible to negotiate lesson timings with your teacher and reach a consensus with the rest of your class. For example, there are two H2 French repeat-sessions on Mondays, one from 3–5pm and one from 5.30–7.30pm. Those who end lessons before 3pm can attend the earlier session.

Also, transport will not be a problem! If you’ve been studying your Third Language for four years, you should know that MOELC Bishan is comfortably close to Raffles Institution, within walking distance from the Bishan MRT Station. Alternatively, you could take buses 410W and 53 from the interchange if trudging under the sweltering Singapore sun does not sound like a desirable option.

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German notes and text

How different is the H2 Third Language syllabus from secondary school?
Whereas secondary school Third Language lessons pay great attention to building up your linguistic basics, focusing largely on grammar and vocabulary, the H2 Third Language syllabus is structured by topic, not unlike the GP curriculum! So you get topics like Family, Youth, Technological Innovations. Lessons are definitely more discussion-based, and are aimed at teaching you content knowledge and helping you form cogent opinions of current affairs. The reason they diverge from GP lessons is that your Third Language syllabus would give especial emphasis to the specific native country – France, German and Japanese. The logic is that if you are a fan of the language, then it follows that you should also be a fan of the country.

Exams, too, differ from those in secondary school. In the H2 syllabus, you will sit for multiple papers: oral, listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and essay-writing. Essays in secondary school Third Language involve narrative and functional writing, but in H2 they become discursive and argumentative, according to the topics you study. If expressing nuanced opinions about a question like “Meritocracy only aggravates existing inequalities in society” floats your boat, then H2 is for you!

An additional component that is absent from the secondary school syllabus is coursework. Throughout the two years, you will have to complete two 1000-word coursework papers. This may sound daunting, but the upside is that you are absolutely free to choose whatever topic you wish, as long as it bears some relation to the native country or a country that speaks that language. So for example in H2 French we have a huge variety of topics, ranging from social issues like inequalities in French education, secularism and gentrification to matters that deal more closely with culture and lifestyle, such as French football, vegetarianism, Gothic architecture, cheeses and wines. The field, as you can see, is really quite boundless. Lu Luoyi (16S06A), who studies H2 Japanese, says that part of the reason he took the subject was for the “more flexible and interesting assessments”, such as the coursework component.

Do check out SEAB’s official syllabuses for more information about your specific language! You can find French here, German here and Japanese here.

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The happy H1 French class of 2015 (Photo courtesy of Heather Heng)

What about H1 Third Language?
If you have already made up your mind about your four H2 content subjects and Third Language is not one of them, but you still cannot bear the idea of giving up on Third Language, then you might consider taking it at H1 level. You might be wondering, what is the H1 Third Language syllabus like?

It is roughly the same as H2, but with several fundamental differences. First of all, the H1 syllabus lasts only one year, and you have to take your A levels at the end of J1.

Comparatively, the H1 syllabus is also meant to be slightly less challenging. The exams consist of oral, listening comprehension, reading comprehension and essay-writing, but there is no coursework.

The timetable, however, is the same: two sessions a week, each lasting two hours. The H1 class is separate from the H2 class and gets its own teacher. The hours and days on which classes take place might differ too. It is possible that the H1 and H2 students may never meet one another throughout the whole academic year.

However, there are costs: H1 is not as widely recognised as H2 in university applications at the moment. (Taking H1 gives you less time to polish your language skills and comparatively, the H2 students are expected to reach a higher language proficiency due to the extra time and weight of the subject.) However, for Engracia (16S03D), taking H1 German was still “worthwhile (and) having lessons conducted in german felt more authentic… Though it required quite a lot of extra time, taking H1 german made german become real to me as we discussed real world topics.” Furthermore, if you decide to study H1 Third Language on top of four other H2 content subjects, then you would sacrifice the opportunity of taking a H3 subject in J2, because you would have maxed out your 12 subject units.

Heather was “very fixed in my idea of taking four H2 content subjects because I needed a wide range of university courses and occupations open to me”. She chose H1 French along with her four H2s in order to “increase her options”.

So, should I take a Third Language in JC?
To sum up,

  • Yes, I should take H2!: If you are passionate about the language and culture, if you are confident about your ability to cope with and do well in the subject, if you are sure that you are happy with the Third Language occupying one of your four H2 subject slots, and if you want to be awesome!
  • No, I don’t think I will take H2, but I want to take H1 on top of four other content subjects!: If you are passionate about the language and culture, if you are confident about your ability to cope with and do well in the subject on top of four other H2 subjects, if you are willing to sacrifice the opportunity for a H3 subject in J2, and if you want to be awesome!
  • No, I am not taking it at all: Basically the reverse of the above. Except the awesome part! You can definitely still be awesome without taking a Third Language in JC :) Choose wisely, find out more, speak to your teachers and seniors, and make an informed choice!

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