Dictation in language learning

One of my school German teachers, Bob Tyler, used to say that the best all round test of someone’s language knowledge is a dictation. He was right.

  • Your listening needs to be good enough to understand what was read to you (though admittedly in our school settings delivered at a slow pace, and by a non-native speaker).
  • Your grammar and vocabulary need to be good enough to decode what was read.
  • Your spelling and grammar need to be good enough to write the words accurately.

I had to do dictations at school for O-level (in German, French and Russian) and A-level (in German and French). I also had to do them at Cambridge at the interview stage, and in the first week for German and at the beginning of the second year for Russian. I can’t remember whether I also had to do one at the end of my last year.

Dictations have gone out of favour, though. My daughters didn’t have to do them for GCSE or A-level. It is a pity they have gone. They were a good test and doing practice dictations was useful exercise.

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