by Dr. Eoin Barrett
The 2019 Leaving Certificate Spanish Higher Level paper was consistent with previous years in terms of the style of the comprehension topics examined and overall level of difficulty, and the majority of students seemed happy with the paper and their exam-day performance.
The first long comprehension or ‘Journalistic Text’ related to a young woman who completed the Camino de Santiago on a tandem bicycle despite suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. While the text did contain some specific medical terms, this vocabulary was not required in the answering of the questions, which were relatively straightforward and did not contain any real traps or distractors.
When answering Q. 2 (a), students needed to be alert to the fact that the phrase ‘quería decir’ was equivalent to ‘significaba’ in this particular case. In Q. 3 it was important that students provided the English equivalent to the phrases indicated by referring back to the article for context, rather than translating them in isolation. This was especially true of the phrase ‘nunca tiraría la toalla’ or ‘she would never throw in the towel’, which students could have guessed in the context even if they didn’t recognise the phrase initially. Q. 4 offered two short and relatively simple options to paraphrase in Spanish: ‘La joven es consciente’ and ‘Es duro entender’, which should not have posed difficulties for well-prepared students.
The Section A short comprehension questions were very manageable this year. The first featured the performance of the Irish women’s hockey team at the World Championships, and contained vocabulary that should have been familiar to the vast majority of students, though the appearance of the word ‘conmovedora’ (moving/emotional) may have proved tricky for some. The second text, dealing with students who combine study and work, contained familiar vocabulary and did not present any difficulties.
The second long comprehension task, Section B, was also quite manageable this year, dealing with efforts to protect and restore the populations of animals in danger of extinction, in particular the Iberian Lynx. As with the Section A Journalistic Text, the Section B article contained some quite specific words related to animals and their conservation, but this vocabulary was not necessarily required when answering the questions. I felt that Qs. 1 and 3, which require students to find words or phrases in the text equivalent to those provided in the question, were relatively easy this year, though students had to ensure they only included the exact equivalent word or phrase to gain the marks. The phrases to be translated in Q.2 were uncomplicated, and students should have done well in Q. 4 as long as they provided plenty of detail in their answers.
The Opinion Piece titles were easy to understand and offered plenty of scope for students to develop relevant points, and the Letter/Email option on the value of learning Spanish provided students with quite an attractive alternative to the Dialogue Construction on this occasion. While the Dialogue was not especially difficult overall, it did require the use of some quite specific words and grammatical structures that may not have been familiar to all students. Unusually, this year’s Dialogue Construction did not require the use of the Subjunctive mood. The Diary Entry option allowed students to incorporate material that would have been prepared for the Speaking exam, though it would have been slightly difficult to express the idea, ‘You feel great because it’s the best hotel you have stayed in’. The Note option was a bit more difficult this year, requiring two uses of the Subjunctive that may not have been immediately obvious to students at first glance.
The Listening test was quite varied in terms of the topics featured this year, though the pace of the audio and the language used should not have presented major difficulties to well-prepared students. The segments included the status of Gaelic Football in Madrid, an interview with a Chilean actor who features in the series Narcos, the experience of Erasmus students in Spain, the Rock of Gibraltar and a casting call for roles in Game of Thrones. Unusually, this year’s weather question featured a forecast for Cuba rather than Spain, but there were no specific references to the island’s geography and the vocabulary required should have been completely familiar to Yeats students.