Every language matters: MFL in 2016-17

26th August 2016 at 00:00
We need to spread the word about our subject’s worth

If ever we needed to extend our world view and encourage young people to value languages, that time is now. The message that every language is important is more relevant than ever, whether that is learning a new language or developing one that you speak at home.

And yet, these are challenging times for teachers of modern foreign languages: exam boards are axeing qualifications and university departments are discontinuing courses. There is good news, too, though: research is still going strong and languages teachers have plenty to be enthusiastic about in the coming academic year. Here’s an overview.

What you need to consider in the next 12 months


Since 2014, when primary languages became a compulsory part of the national curriculum, great progress has been made. Our figures reveal that almost all primary schools are now offering languages to all of their pupils from the age of seven and just over one-third of primary schools say that they have access to specialist language expertise.

Challenges for the future still revolve around finding sufficient time in the curriculum to offer sustained high-quality experience of language learning to build progress.


For secondary schools, one of the biggest problems is teacher recruitment.

With an ambitious new target of 90 per cent of pupils studying for the English Baccalaureate, we need more qualified linguists to join the profession. This will mean a targeted national effort to attract graduates, returners and career changers, as well as welcoming native speaker teachers and ensuring that they can continue to join us from abroad.

There is also considerable further work needed in making sure that primary and secondary schools can connect with each other and share clear information on children’s learning outcomes at points of transfer.

Tips and strategies for the year ahead

The new curriculum and the reform of GCSE and A levels may seem daunting, but the best way forward is to share ideas and develop new approaches together.

One way is to join a professional association such as the Association for Language Learning (ALL). ALL has set up a wiki to help tackle teaching languages through literary texts. You can access ideas and contribute your own.

Teachers should look into the range of traditional and new stories available in English and other languages. Reading each other’s stories can help to build mutual understanding and respect. The following new projects are also worth a look:

Through the Goethe Institut, 10 partners from four European countries have joined forces to support the teaching of foreign languages at primary level. One of the main aims is to develop The Language Magician, a game that can be used as an assessment tool.

Language Futures is an exciting initiative for creative departments interested in developing languages beyond the classroom. It works in tandem with the languages provision already in place in school, and is designed to equip students with the skills to develop as independent learners supported by school, home and a language-proficient mentor from the community.

Bernardette Holmes is campaign director of Speak to the Future

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