I was very pleased to present a paper at the recent Collaborative Action Research Conference on Action Research Communities for Language Teachers (a project funded by the European Centre for Modern Languages) with my colleague, Christine Lechner from the Pädagogische Hochschule Tirol. The conference, Reflecting on Action Research in an unequal world: alternative perspectives on democracy was held at the University of Crete in Rethmyno https://carnreth2017.wixsite.com/carn. The conference was inspiring with so many examples of teacher action research in classrooms across Europe. The wonderful Cretan hospitality and beautiful setting contributed to a wonderful few days.
Employability for Languages: A Handbook which I co-edited with two of my University of Southampton colleagues, Erika Corradini and Kate Borthwick was published in the summer by Research-Publishing.net.
The book showcases a collection of case studies and projects which teachers have embedded into the languages curriculum to enable students in both higher education and schools to develop transferable skills and competences. The collection focuses on some highly innovative practice and also provides information on how projects have been set up and organised so that they can be replicated. I really enjoyed being on the editorial team.
All chapters are fully downloadable at the above link.
I recently presented at the London Language Show on behalf of Routes into Languages with Irena Holdsworth from Routes South West and Sarah Schechter from Routes East. Our presentation: What Routes into Languages can do for you and your school focused on exciting projects that help to take languages out of the classroom and is now online.
I was recently asked to speak at a widening participation workshop organised by Routes into Languages East Midlands about why we need to widen participation in language learning, which is one of the key objectives of the Routes into Languages programme. In preparing my presentation for the event, I started out by simply googling ‘languages an elitist subject.’ What came up was a wide variety of media headlines from the last decade – a few of these are listed below:
- Foreign Languages are elitist subjects (2010)
- Coalition cuts turning languages into an elitist subject (2010)
- Chattering Classes (2007)
- Language study’s elitist trend (2003)
- Languages ‘preserve of middle class girls’ (2005)
These headlines do seem to indicate that there really is a media discourse about languages as socially elitist in the UK which will be challenging for those of us in the languages community to break down.
When it comes to the evidence about what is actually going on in this area, the most recent Language Trends survey (Board & Tinsley, 2014) paid some attention to this and reported that among its respondents, fee-paying independent schools were more likely than maintained state schools to offer continuity of language in the transition from Key Stage 2 to 3 and more likely to offer more than one language in KS3. Additionally, as has been much publicised, exam entries in languages at both GCSE and A level include disproportionately high numbers of entries from the independent sector. Most recent GCSE figures show a 15% gap in favour of independent schools, for example. Post-16, the situation is even more pronounced with 32% of all A-level entries in 2013 coming from the independent sector according to Language Trends.
And what of universities? Well, languages tend to be located in the more traditional universities in the UK, i.e. the Russell Group. The UCAS 2013 Application Cycle: End of Cycle Report in December 2013 made for depressing reading and reported that students from independent schools made up 9.58% of applicants across all subjects compared with 28.34% for European Languages. A few years ago, my former University of Southampton colleague, John Canning published statistics on the social and background of language applicants in UK HE and these highlight the problems in a bit more detail and can be seen on his website.
So in answer to the question, ‘are languages elitist subjects?‘ Yes it would seem so. It is important to emphasise, however, that to some extent they always have been. Languages were traditionally taught in grammar schools and not to the whole cohort. And in the languages community we are still grappling with this aura of elitism that surrounds our subject.
Social capital and modern language initiatives in times of policy uncertainty is an article that I wrote with Hannah Doughty and Heather McGuinness and which has just been published in the Scottish Languages Review. We examined examples of bonding, bridging and linking social capital with references to policy initiatives in England and Scotland (it’s a comparative piece). This is an open access article.
I also wrote a piece for The Tablet Let Nation speak unto Nation about the decline in language learning in the UK and about the steps being taken by the Routes into Languages programme to address the decline.
I’ll be at Language World 2013 at Nottingham Trent University on Friday 22 March and will be staffing the Routes into Languages exhibition stand with my LLAS colleague, Erika Corradini and the Routes East Midlands team. We’re looking forward to letting delegates know about the work of Routes and we’ll also be giving away lots of free resources.
I’ll also be hoping to pop in to a few of the sessions. Ross Cooper’s presentation on improving memory and Matt Davis’ on language learning and the brain both sound particularly fascinating. I’ll be looking for a few tips that I can use in my own language learning as I’m doing evening classes in Spanish. Other talks of interest are Drama, differentiation and meaning (Liz Black) and Making the most of Skype – bringing the world into your classroom (Bertram Richter and Inmaculada Morris). Both of these look to be about helping to create a motivational purpose for speaking, which is a research interest of mine. David Crystal is bound to be good too. Overall, it looks like a great programme and should be a really enjoyable event.
I attended the first day of the LLAS Higher Education Language Futures Conference in Edinburgh recently. It was a really inspiring day with so much interesting input about what is going on in languages in HE and, as always, it was great to meet up with old friends.
I chaired a couple of sessions – firstly Liz Andersen and Nick Johnston from the Routes into Languages North East team talked about the development of the student language ambassador module at Newcastle University and then Sarah Schechter and Mary Brittain from Routes into Languages East and East Midlands presented findings from a sustainability audit, which covered a range of themes, including the contribution of Routes into Languages to the student experience and employability in languages and the role of Routes in widening participation and fair access (the full sustainability report is available here – www.routesintolanguages.ac.u/impact). The second session I chaired involved Fiona Graham from the European Commission who drew attention to the role of, and demand for, translators in the Commission. Fiona was followed by Anne Marie Graham who reported on research she has been doing for Routes into Languages examining public service interpreting and translating provision in English HE. She also presented a new website, which will be a repository and community of practice for teaching and learning materials in PSIT – http://www.psit.org.uk/.
Afternoon plenary sessions included Ros Mitchell from Southampton University who spoke about residence abroad for languages students in a globalised world – she was referring to an ongoing research study, which looks as though it has fascinating findings about linguistic progress and the use of the target language in different settings. The day’s proceedings finished with a really informative presentation on language policy in Scotland by Sarah Breslin, Director of Scottish CILT. The languages picture in Scotland is looking optimistic at the moment with the new 2+1 policy for primary schools.
All good stuff – I was only sorry not to be able to stay for the second day. Conference presentations will appear here soon: http://www.llas.ac.uk/events/archive/6404
Onto the Wales national final of the languages Spelling Bee…
Last week I set off on a long train journey to Aberystwyth with my colleague, Claire Wilkins for the Welsh Spelling Bee final. As it was graduation week at Aberystwyth Uni, we couldn’t get accommodation there so ended up staying in Welshpool, which was lovely and very scenic. We continued by train to Aberystwyth the next day and had a conversation with a teacher who was taking one of her pupils to the Spelling Bee! The venue for the final was the superb National Library of Wales. The event kicked off with the 4 year 7 finalists in Spanish, followed by Welsh second language, French and finally German. Performances were really impressive – the standard of spelling was very high throughout. Afterwards I did a bit of sightseeing in Aberystwyth …..
I was then joined by my husband and we spent the weekend walking in the very beautiful Elan Valley….