MFL - Give your lingo a lift

It's time to get proactive in promoting foreign languages

It is that time of year again, when Year 9s are becoming increasingly vocal about their plans to carry on with languages - or not - at key stage 4. Languages were made optional in 2004 and many departments have drastically reduced in size, often leaving it to one or two people to organise promotional activities. As a result, although promotion needs to happen all year round through stimulating learning and teaching activities, there must also be a focus on what impact these activities are having on students.

Most departments will organise trips abroad. Although a lot of visits do not lead to much foreign language being actively used, getting students to help organise and promote the trip to their peers' homeland will make a lasting impression on them and encourage them to find out more about the area visited.

If you cannot go abroad, a well-prepared visit to a local French restaurant or tapas bar can provide many learning opportunities linked with the topics of food and drink and careers.

A regular prize such as a "linguist of the month" award is a great way to praise students for their linguistic achievements. The faculty should also consider developing a languages web page featuring all learning opportunities for students, as well as examples of their work. The page could be part of the school's virtual learning environment, either directly or via an external blog. Some departments have embraced social media further and set up Facebook pages.

Make the most of cross-curricular projects and creative partnerships, and put language-related events such as the European Day of Languages on the school calendar. Competitions such as the Spelling Bee can also be promoted through classroom activities.

Last but not least, show the link between languages and the wider world by interviewing foreign language assistants and inviting speakers from higher education and industry. Make use of all the opportunities offered by the British Council through its Comenius and assistants programmes.

All the activities will need to allow students to reflect on the benefits of studying languages. Just taking part in activities where they are passively entertained will do little to promote the subject.

Isabelle Jones is a head of languages at the Radclyffe School, Oldham, where she teaches French and Spanish

What else?

In her blog, Isabelle Jones offers advice and information about creative partnerships and the European Day of Languages, among other great ideas.

Check out the foreign language Spelling Bee home page for comprehensive vocabulary lists. Make starting a competition your new year's resolution.

Want to develop international links in your department? Try the British Council website for more details on e-twinning and other projects.

Try TeachersTV for ideas about dealing with key stage 2-3 MFL transition and maximising language learning at secondary school.

In the forums

One teacher is looking for advice on setting up a school exchange programme. Can you help?

Discuss the decline of MFL at A-level and what can be done about it in the TES MFL forum.

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