Despite huge demand for employees who speak multiple languages (Baroness Jean Coussins, chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, stated in 2014 that the UK economy was losing up to £48 billion worth of contracts each year due to a lack of language skills among employees), fewer students are choosing to pursue MFL subjects at A-level or degree level. How can we turn this around?
The BFI suggests the key may be short films. Over the past two years, the charity has run the Screening Languages project, involving 19 schools, 27 teachers and about 800 students.
The initiative is designed to embed film into key stage 3 MFL classrooms. The project report explains that “film is an accessible art form that can link to other aspects of culture, such as poetry, literature and art and which pupils of all ages are keen to engage with”.
Lessons were designed around short films in French, Spanish, German, and Mandarin, with resources attached. This was supported by CPD sessions for lead practitioners and participating teachers, where those involved could co-develop materials.
It seems to have worked. At least three-quarters of participating pupils (76 per cent) enjoyed working with foreign films, while teachers say they became more engrossed in their subject and the teaching approaches that the films required, leading to higher job satisfaction overall.
Natalla Calero, a teacher at Park High School in Stanmore, notes how pupils were keen to analyse the construction and narratives of the material, and enjoyed hearing authentic Spanish dialogue and slang in film such as La Huida. She says all but two members of her KS3 class had selected Spanish as a GCSE option.
As a result of the project, all participating schools have chosen to continue to incorporate short films into their KS3 curricula. The BFI hopes to extend its work to schools throughout the UK, encouraging MFL teachers to take creative risks, in a bid to make MFL learning relevant and engaging for today’s students.