Modern Languages

Housed in an attractive detached Georgian building and in the new classrooms of the main school building, the Modern Languages department is well equipped technically: there are fourteen classrooms all with a full range of audio-visual aids (computer, data projector, sound system, screen and OHP, as well as CD and DVD players), a department office with resources store and two language assistant rooms. There is also a 25-booth digital language laboratory which uses state-of-the-art Sanako technology.

Traditionally, the second most popular degree course for leavers is either languages or a language combined with another course.

Tonbridge Modern Languages has been recognised by Geoff Lucas (editor of the Good Schools Guide) in an article which appeared in the First Eleven and featured in Country Life as one of the best Modern Languages departments in the country.

  • The department's primary aim is to provide a first-rate and enjoyable education for every boy in every language that we teach. The other aims are:
  • To maintain and/or stimulate lasting pupil curiosity, interest and enjoyment in the chosen language;
  • To create an atmosphere where boys wish to learn, so that they come to enjoy the chosen language, because they are active participants in it, and where staff enjoy teaching, so they give of their very best;
  • To encourage the desire to study foreign languages to a higher level;
  • To enable boys to work independently and as part of a team in varied activities;
  • To employ teaching methods and resources which allow all boys to experience success and enjoyment in their work


The French are our closest neighbours (physically speaking in any case) and so it has always been – and is likely to remain so for some time – a very useful skill to be able to communicate effectively in French.

There is a certain je ne sais quoi about the French language and those who have a Francophile penchant can soon find learning the language a raison d’être. If one is en famille in a restaurant and ordering an hors d’œuvre before choosing an entrée from the à la carte menu, it is chic and de rigueur to create a better ambiance by being au fait with French.

Whilst the previous paragraph contains obvious French terms, the majority of the current one is also, for the vast majority, influenced directly by the French language. There are over 50,000 English words that have their etymology in French.

Speaking French well can bring a whole wealth of benefits: cultural, social, political and – let us not forget – it opens up a lot more job opportunities in an increasingly competitive job market.

Our French department’s main aim is to make learning French fun and interesting whilst building a solid linguistic and grammatical base on which our boys can build and take the language further. And many of them do. 


German can …..

  • offer intellectual stimulation and enjoyment
  • enable the learner to gain much better access to areas of art, culture, music and history
  • facilitate more effective communication with the 100 million people for whom it is a first language
  • provide an increasingly rare language skill that is valued by employers

What is German like?  Sometimes like doing Maths – linguistic puzzles and equations in which everything has to balance. Certainly, it is different from studying a Romance language such as French or Spanish, although links with Latin are clear. The scientifically or mathematically minded often take to German better than to other languages because you can “work it out” once certain principles have been learned. Much of the everyday vocabulary bears a strong resemblance to that of English; hardly surprising if you consider that English and German belong to the same Germanic family of languages.

German is the most widely spoken first language in Europe, and we believe, as do the CBI, chambers of commerce and successive UK governments, that a knowledge of the languages of our main trading partners is essential in developing the economic links necessary for future prosperity. Germany is the UK’s largest non-English speaking trading partner and has, by some way, Europe’s largest economy. The Daily Telegraph reported in August 2011 that companies looking for second language skills most frequently asked for German.

Most years the German department runs an Easter trip, either to Berlin or Munich, and virtually every year boys leave Tonbridge to do German at university, frequently in combination with other subjects such as History, Law, other languages or Engineering. Letters and postcards from gap years and news from students doing years abroad as part of a degree course confirm that German is a valuable and stimulating subject to study. 


Since Mandarin Chinese was introduced into the curriculum at Tonbridge School in 2006, it has grown from strength to strength. CIE’s Pre-U Mandarin was introduced in 2012 for boys in the Sixth Form and lower school boys now take the IGCSE course.

Typically, around 70 non-native boys study Mandarin across the school, with more sixth formers carrying on learning the language following their GCSE success. Also, a good number of native speakers (mainly from mainland China or Hong Kong) continue their Mandarin studies in their first year with us. Each year many of the boys achieve top grades and go on to study Chinese at leading universities.

The Mandarin department is well supported by modern technology which encourages and helps boys to explore, develop and to research.

Learning Mandarin at Tonbridge not only offers a golden opportunity for our boys to learn a challenging language, but guides them towards understanding the lifestyle, tradition and beliefs of people living on the other side of the world. The course not only gives them the ability to talk to Chinese people, but sets up a solid foundation for them to discover more independently in the future.

There is a permanent link between Tonbridge School and a similar prestigious school, Nankai School in Tianjin, northern China. Every year, boys in the U6th are able to visit Tianjin and stay with a Chinese family. The experience has proved highly valuable, as it offers a unique opportunity for them to practice their linguistic skills and to closely observe Chinese daily life.


500 million speakers worldwide.  The first language of 21 countries. One of the six official languages of the United Nations. The second most natively spoken language in the world.

These and many other similar statistics go some way towards explaining the global importance of the Spanish language. Its appeal, however, goes some way beyond the purely statistical for those who choose to study it. Knowledge of Spanish provides a gateway to some of the most culturally vibrant resources on the planet: from the Nobel Prize-winning novels of Gabriel García Márquez to the surreal graphic depictions of Pablo Picasso; from the hypnotic twang of Argentine tango bands to the swinging beats of the Buena Vista Social Club; or from the burritos, tamales and fajitas of a restaurant in Mexico City to the paella and tapas of one in Madrid.

At Tonbridge, the Spanish department seeks to inspire boys to appreciate the cultural and economic value of Spanish in today’s world. Through a linguistically rigorous yet engaging approach to teaching, boys are equipped with the necessary skills to achieve at the very highest levels at not only GCSE and A level, but at university and beyond.  A vital component of this is our commitment to offering opportunities to learn and practise in authentic contexts – the department currently runs two trips a year, to Santiago de Compostela and Málaga respectively. 

Other Languages

As well as the main curriculum languages, various other languages can be taken off-timetable. Boys who speak other languages are encouraged to take a formal qualification in these languages and private tuition for this can be arranged where required. Languages commonly taken include Dutch, Modern Greek, Italian, Japanese and Russian. The same teaching facilities and support are provided for those taking lessons privately.

Due to a preference of several top universities that (I)GCSE examinations be taken in the same session, we have decided (somewhat reluctantly) along with other academic schools to discontinue early-take IGCSE French. In the past, an intensive Italian GCSE course was offered in the third year for the most able boys and it seems a shame that this should discontinue. There will therefore be two parallel top sets in the second and third year. One of these will do an intensive two years of French to IGCSE and Italian to GCSE (currently Edexcel 2IN01) in tandem whilst the other top set will do simply French to IGCSE with the opportunity for the set to do much more cultural and grammatical work than is needed for the IGCSE. Boys should not be put off taking another language to (I)GCSE as well. A healthy number of current lower sixth entered the sixth form with three modern languages at (I)GCSE and there is no reason why opting for French/Italian and then also, say, Spanish (over the two years) would be a problem; indeed, we believe it would be an exciting challenge for the most able boys / linguists. Please note that Italian is not available as an AS/A2 course and so those considering an eventual joint degree in modern languages would be advised to take at least two languages – and the most able three. It will therefore be requested when final option choices are made whether your son would like to be considered for the French/Italian set.

Mr William Law

Head of Modern Languages & Head of Department (French)
BA, St John's College, Oxford

Mr Sholto Kerr

Head of Department (German)
BA, University of Birmingham

Mr Luis Fuentes

Head of Department (Spanish)
MA, Universidad Internacional de la Rioja

Mr Justin Wu

Head of Department (Mandarin)
MA, Fudan University, Shanghai

Mrs Corinne Clugston

Head of Department (EAL)
BA, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

Mr Richard Burnett

Director of Admissions
MA, Selwyn College, Cambridge

Mr Richard Hoare

MA, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

Miss Deirdre McDermot

MA, University of Granada, Dublin City University and University of Limerick

Mr Lindsay McDonald

MA, St Edmund Hall, Oxford

Mr James Nicholls

MA, Worcester College, Oxford

Mr James Storey-Mason

BA, University of Nottingham

Mrs Rochelle Thomson

Teacher, Internal Assessor for Access Arrangements
BA, University of Auckland

Mr Charles Wright

BA, Nottingham University

Ms Xiang Yu

BA, Shanghai University

Philippa Edwards

Language Assistant (German)

Mrs Elena Kelly

Language Assistant (Russian)

Miss Camille Piton

Language Assistant (French)
MA, Paris Sorbonne University

Mrs Maria Schofield

Language Assistant (Italian)

Mrs Hiromi Stevens

Language Assistant (Japanese)