Employability for Languages: A Handbook

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.


Employability for Languages Handbook

I’m very excited to be working on a new initiative with two of my University of Southampton colleagues, Erika Corradini and Kate Borthwick. As part of an employability project that we are conducting for Routes into Languages, we are editing an Employability for Languages handbook. We’ve invited contributions and will be showcasing inspiring case studies in the area of employability for languages graduates. The result will be an open access e-book which will be freely available for download. We’re very much looking forward to receiving expressions of interest and I’ll update on our progress later on.

Reflections on Storyville: exploring narratives of teaching and learning

This last week I spent two days at the Higher Education Academy’s Arts & Humanities Conference, Storyville: exploring narratives of teaching and learning in a rather damp and murky Brighton.


I was presenting a paper with my colleague, Kate Borthwick on a research study that we carried out recently which looked at language teacher professional development. Below are a few highlights of sessions I attended:

1              The tall tales we tell about teaching (Vicky Gunn, University of Glasgow)

Vicky used her background as a medievalist to examine how collective memories about teaching and learning are made. For me, most interesting was how Vicky encouraged us to think about how we bring our memories to our teaching. She also talked about some recent research with humanities academics who have reported themselves to be very suspicious of the HE buzzword concepts of entrepreneurialism, work-related learning and global citizenship.

2              Write here Write now (Jac Cattaneo, Northbrook College and University of Chichester)

This workshop introduced a project which set out to encourage Art, Design and Media Studies students to engage with academic writing through the use of creative writing practices. After the preliminaries, Jac got us all writing using a series of visual prompts – in one example we drew a map to represent a childhood place of personal significance and another one of a place in the here and now. We were then asked to do a piece of free writing and to link the two maps. This was a really enjoyable and thought-provoking session. I could imagine using some of the ideas here in professional development workshops for teachers.

3              Narratives of the future self: a narrative method for researching language learners’ self-concepts (Angela Goddard & Alistair Henry, West University, Sweden)

Angela and Alistair reported on a language learning motivation study in Sweden. This was of particular interest to me as motivation is my main research area. They used a narrative approach to investigate students’ L2 identities at key transition points in an English-mediated university programme (using the concepts of possible and future selves). This is a longitudinal study so they will have more to report as it develops.

4              The OpenLIVES OER oral history experience: rebalancing methodologies, values and identities in Arts & Humanities in HE (Antonio Martinez-Arboleda, University of Leeds)

The OpenLIVES Project collected the oral histories of people who left Spain during the Civil War. Antonio described how the materials gathered during OpenLIVES were developed into a student module at the University of Leeds and how the skills developed by the students during the module form part of an ‘empowerability’ rather than ‘employability’ agenda. All the OpenLIVES materials are openly available in the Humbox

5              Student-led peer mentoring (Gabriele Neher, University of Nottingham)

Gabriele described an initiative at Nottingham where students are invited to apply (through a formal application process) to become mentors to new students. It’s an opt-in scheme for mentees and project activities involve extensive use of social media. The scheme has helped to bridge the transition gap for incoming students.

Other useful presentations included Students as partners: sharing stories (Jenny Lewin, University of Worcester), Academic staff perceptions of I.T. in the Humanities (Pritpal Sembi, University of Wolverhampton) and Pioneers on the frontiers of learning? A narrative inquiry approach to new pedagogical practices using technology in Arts and Humanities learning and teaching (Rosemary Stott, Ravensbourne, Sarah Cousins, University of Bedfordshire & Dounia Bissar, University of Essex)

Overall, an enjoyable couple of days although I would have liked to have seen a greater languages presence on the conference programme.


The latest interesting Open Educational Resources (OERs)

This is a selection of recent OERs from the LanguageBox and Humbox. They cover a variety of themes including plagiarism, open educational resources, open access to languages research and getting employers involved in curriculum design

1             Plagiarism and Referencing

(Richard Galletly, Aston University)

This is a really useful presentation for anyone teaching first-year university students. It explains what plagiarism is, why students sometimes use it and how to avoid it. It also includes good advice for referencing and citing work.

2             Creating and sharing OERs through LanguageBox: a community-based repository

(Bianco Belgiorno-Appleyard, University of Southampton)

This presentation from the LLAS E-learning symposium is a helpful introduction to the FAVOR (Finding a Voice through Open Resources) Project, which provided training for language tutors to publish existing language teaching resources as OERs and to produce new digital materials.

3             No Open Learning without Open Access: a Portal for open access research into teaching modern languages

(John Canning, University of Southampton)

This presentation also comes from the E-learning symposium and is about the author’s journey in setting up an open access database of research articles related to teaching and learning modern languages. It is very useful for people who are interested in this research but who don’t work in universities http://www.yazikopen.org.uk/yazikopen/

4       Piloting employer input into curriculum design

(Antonío Martínez-Arboleda, University of Leeds)

This is a very interesting take on OERs and is a presentation from a recent Higher Education Academy sponsored conference at the University of Leeds: Employability: Addressing the Gulf between Academic, Student and Employer Perspectives. It relates to findings from the OU SCORE Project and for more information on this, see Antonio’s other resource



Reflections on an inspiring Modern Languages research in progress workshop

Research in and for Languages was jointly organised by the LLAS Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies at the University of Southampton and Scottish CILT, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages at the University of Strathclyde http://www.llas.ac.uk/events/archive/6541. It was held at Strathclyde on 27 April 2012.

As one of the workshop organisers, I was overwhelmed by the large number of high quality proposals that were submitted following our call for papers. We were quite literally spoilt for choice. Presentations on the day were really wide-ranging in content and theme:

  • Research on Languages, Cultures and Systems in an era of Complexity – Professor Richard Johnstone (University of Stirling)
  • An innovative approach to teaching Chinese to beginner teachers – Dr Jane Medwell and Katherine Richardson (University of Warwick)
  • Is English enough? Language Management in the UK financial sector – Dr Mary Fischer (Edinburgh Napier University)
  • A study of young learner motivation: adding an affective dimension to the ‘younger = better’ debate – Louise Courtney (University of Southampton)
  • Translation in intercultural health settings – Teresa Piacentini (University of Glasgow)
  • One of us’ – a case study of language and identity in two mixed-race (white and South Asian) Britons – Sheena Kalayil (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Teaching successful spoken requests in an EAP context Christian Jones & Nicola Halenko (University of Central Lancashire)
  • Crowdsourcing research and corpus planning for lesser-resourced languages – Mark McConville (University of Glasgow)
  • Assessing the work placement abroad – Laurence Giraud-Johnstone (University of the West of Scotland)

All these speakers were reporting on really interesting findings. We were also fortunate enough to have three excellent poster presentations at lunch-time:

  • E-learning methodology in Austrian adult education based on English e-grammar for adult ESL learners – Christina Auerbach
  • Creating resources for the development of reading skills in Polish at ab initio level – Marta Becquet (University of Glasgow)
  • Introducing students to methods of digital humanities and text analysis – Richard Whitt and colleagues (University of Strathclyde)

It was great to get a flavour of the wide variety of research that is going on in languages and was a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking day. Presentations are now available online at the above link.

Graduate identity and employability – Research Reviews (4)

Graduate identity and employability (Geoffrey Hinchliffe & Adrienne Jolly, British Educational Research Journal, 37 (4), 563-584)

Hinchliffe and Jolly begin by raising concerns about the skills and attributes approach that so characterises the discourse around graduate employability, which has been driven by policies of successive governments and is prevalent in universities. They propose a more rounded concept of graduate identity (e.g. Holmes, 2001) and in this research investigate the extent to which notions of employability, skills and attributes among graduates resonated with employers. The study was carried out over a six-month period in 2009 and involved surveying and interviewing employers from a range of organisations in Norfolk, including SMEs, large companies and public sector organisations.

The authors were principally interested in employers’ expectations of graduates and found that personal ethical qualities such as honesty and integrity were more important than skills. Employers expected graduates to have strong interpersonal and communication skills on appointment, especially in writing and some of them were not always happy with graduates’ level of written communication. Cultural, social, environmental and global awareness were also highly valued (of interest to those of us who are linguists!). Intellectual curiosity, problem solving and the ability to reflect were similarly viewed as important components of graduate identity.

Hinchliffe and Jolly conclude by proposing that graduate identity is a “complex capability-set that encompasses values, social engagement, intellect and performance” (582) and they recommend that universities would do better to promote graduate identity indirectly rather than to continue with the current focus on employability skills.

Thoughts on HE Languages News: Student mobility and strategically important subjects

There have been 2 interesting reports with implications for languages over the last week. The Eurobarometer Survey – Youth on the Move and the HEFCE evaluation of support for strategically important and vulnerable subjects.

1        Flash Eurobarometer Survey: Youth on the Move. Analytical Report- May 2011


This is a fascinating report about young people’s attitudes to vocational education, higher education and work and study abroad across Europe. Encouragingly, the survey indicates that most young people regard both vocational and higher education as worthwhile. Just over half of those surveyed suggested that the main reason for going to university was to improve job prospects. The UK and Ireland were found to have the highest proportion of young people motivated by employability concerns and my guess is that this finding will come as no surprise to academics at UK universities.

Over half of young people who participated in the survey also indicated that they would be willing to study or work abroad for a period, which seems to be another encouraging finding. The most significant benefits of spending time abroad were considered to be improved foreign language skills and increased cultural awareness. Although UK respondents acknowledged greater awareness of culture as a benefit, they were among the least likely to believe that foreign language skills would improve as a result of spending time abroad. This seems rather strange given the reputation of UK citizens when it comes to foreign language skills but it may reflect a possible tendency amongst UK participants to view Anglophone countries as their likely destinations.

The survey reported that the most significant barrier to studying and working abroad was lack of money. Additional barriers for UK respondents were family commitments and lack of interest in travel.

The findings of this report will undoubtedly be of interest to anyone in higher education who is involved in persuading students to go abroad.

2        Evaluation of HEFCE’s programme of support for Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects – A report to HEFCE by Curtis + Cartwright Consulting – May 2011


This report is an evaluation of HEFCE’s initiatives to support strategically important and vulnerable subjects, notably STEM subjects and languages.

Initiatives to support languages have principally been the Routes into Languages project www.routes.ac.uk which is a partnership of universities working together with schools and colleges in their regions to increase uptake in languages and the language-based area studies centres (LBAS for short), which have provided intensive language training for postgraduate researchers www.ahrc.ac.uk/FundingOpportunities/Pages/LBASInitiative.aspx.

The evaluation found that HEFCE’s support for SIVs was absolutely crucial and that it represented good value for money. The partnership working in languages that has developed as a result of both the Routes into Languages and LBAS projects was highly commended in the report. As I have been involved in Routes into Languages myself as a member both of the project steering group and the resource development team based at the University of Southampton, I hope that HEFCE will continue to provide some support in languages as we go through into the uncharted territory of the new fees regime.