Opportunities for Linguistics in the MFL Curriculum conference at ARU

Published: 18 June 2019 at 15:33

On 31 May, the ‘Linguistics in Modern Foreign Languages’ project, led by Dr Michelle Sheehan in collaboration with academic colleagues from Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge and Westminster universities, held a conference at Anglia Ruskin University, funded in part by the Philological Society.

The conference brought together stakeholders from exam boards, publishers, advocacy groups and schools to learn about findings from the project so far and to explore outcomes of comparable international initiatives. Discussants at the event included Bernadette Holmes, Director of Speak to the Future, Dora Alexopoulou, Editor of Language, Society and Policy, Rhona Thompson, Curriculum Manager for Languages at AQA, Susan Stewart, Head of Multilingualism at International School of London, and Maria Arche, Director of Centre for Research and Enterprise in Language, University of Greenwich.

The ‘Linguistics in MFL’ project assesses the potential for the inclusion of linguistic topics in the secondary school languages curriculum. It aims to engage students with linguistics and deepen their interest in language, including its historical, cultural and social reflexes. The project addresses the broader ‘languages crisis’, including the declining number of pupils taking languages at A-level and beyond, by engaging students in languages through linguistics.

The conference provided a forum to discuss current problems associated with language teaching in the UK and how greater engagement with linguistics as a discipline could address them. Speakers included Teresa Tinsley from Alcantara Communications, who gave a talk on ‘Languages in schools: where we are now and how we got here’, and Chris Pountain from Queen Mary University, who discussed the topic, ‘Where has all the grammar gone?’

Janette Swainton (Head of Modern Foreign Languages at Longsands Academy, St Neots) said “The Linguistics in MFL conference on 31 May brought together academics, teachers, exam boards and publishers. Engaging presentations examined the reasons for the current situation surrounding the teaching of MFL in schools before turning the spotlight onto initiatives designed to introduce the study of linguistics into MFL teaching in a more structured way. A wider perspective was also provided through case studies from across Europe. The insightful discussions which followed revealed a common desire amongst all delegates to stem the decline of modern language uptake in our schools both at GCSE and A level and the day was brought to a close with these pertinent words from Bernadette Holmes " Learning languages is a liberation from insularity".

Find out more about the project on the Linguistics in MFL website.