The decline of language learning in the UK’s schools has been well-documented, and the possible causes have been pondered and pondered.
It’s clear that we have to take action to make young people see the value of learning languages, and understand the crucial role that they can play in our young people’s future careers and life experiences.
Promoting the value of learning languages
Here are some approaches we are taking to do just that:
1. Make a social media splash
This is the most current, accessible and modern way to share your message and showcase your department beyond the walls of your school community, as well as keeping students and parents engaged.
Setting up a departmental Twitter page is also a great way to share best practice and ideas for language learning between schools.
2. Stock the school library
The library can be a forgotten treasure trove, offering additional subject-related resources such as target language comics/graphic novels and age-suitable foreign language books. Working with your library, you can make it a place where young people yearn to escape to faraway lands, have opportunities to dream big and learn outside of the lesson.
3. Be inventive with intervention days
We have frequently arranged for a theatre group to perform to students in the target language, offering an engaging form of education and entertainment.
Creating a French or Spanish escape room to encourage confidence and spontaneity with speaking and listening skills can also be hugely enjoyable and engaging. These strategies can take place within school and create a buzz of excitement around the corridors, bringing language learning to life.
4. Take classes on virtual field trips
The staple of any language department is the much-loved traditional school trip. The pandemic put an abrupt stop to overseas expeditions and residentials, but encouraged us all to embrace technology to enhance teaching and learning.
Virtual reality apps such as Google Expeditions can take students on a virtual tour of the Palace of Versailles or explore the city of Barcelona. The teacher and/or student can take on the role of the tour guide; scripting descriptions and showcasing speaking and listening skills whilst learning about the landscape and culture from a socially acceptable distance.
5. Celebrate the European Day of Languages
One of the biggest dates in the MFL school calendar is the European Day of Languages at the end of September. Assemblies and quizzes can be shared across the whole school to promote the event and it is worth encouraging all staff and students to dress up on that day in a wide variety of national costumes.
There are all sorts of approaches you can take: we found that an international Bake Off competition, with Mary Berry-style judging and prizes awarded to the best homemade cakes, adds flavour to the event. Ask your colleagues if they speak another language – you may be surprised.
Above all, students are the most valuable, influential resource in our schools, so engage with them fully and genuinely – your departmental profile will increase quickly, and students will be keen to discover the benefits of being international citizens.
James Walding is a French teacher and head of languages at the Cornelius Vermuyden School on Canvey Island in Essex. He also leads the MFL Networking Group for the Benfleet Teaching School Alliance