Modern Foreign Languages - Lifeline for languages

21st October 2011 at 01:00
Hard sell can stop them sinking

Let's be honest - no one out there is coming to the rescue of modern foreign languages teachers. What about the EBac, I hear some of you cry? Maybe in the long run it can arrest the decline of language learning in the UK, but in the short term it has caused more confusion, suspicion and anxiety than it has solved. The answer, I'm afraid, is in our hands, even though our hands have been tied behind our backs. If we are going to stop the rot, MFL teachers have to act.

If we are going to tempt young people to learn a language, we must stimulate and challenge them, but we also have to deliver on grades - even against "softer" subjects which are better resourced, better funded or have more curricular time devoted to them. This means we have to work harder, offer more support and guidance, and be even more generous with our time, more creative in delivering lessons and making the curriculum more accessible. I hate to say it, but we have to be more focused on exam success or we can never hope to compete with other subjects.

Exam success, however, is only a starting point - I know this from experience. Even an excellent track record in exam grades does not mean you will attract students to languages, and this is certainly the case at ASA2. There is still an overwhelming perception that languages are irrelevant or just too hard. So language teachers must market themselves better.

Get your careers adviser on side, and likewise the heads of key stage 4 and sixth-form. Promote the career and personal benefits of languages to pupils. Bring in guest speakers, former students, and personal contacts. Set up workshops. Lead assemblies. Take foreign trips if you can. And work with other departments, even those you perceive as rivals.

Find out what your local export or import industries are and make contact. You should also get in touch with your local university and pitch your stall at every option evening and careers convention. Get parents on board, too. Use every opportunity to convey a positive message.

By being pro-active we might start to woo back a lost generation of linguists and arrest the decline. We have to learn to sell languages in our schools - because no one else is going to.

Andy Holland is head of faculty at Havelock Academy and teacher of French, German and Dutch

What else?


Andy Holland has shared a wealth of material on TES. See his profile for some inspiration for your language lessons

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) has shared a resource designed to help dyslexic students get the most out of learning a foreign language

In the forums

Michael Gove champions learning languages at primary level. Read what teachers have to say

All links, forums and resources in this issue are available at


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today