The Association of Language Learning on Increasing MFL Update at KS4

Liz Black, President of the Association for Language Learning (ALL) shares updates on the latest trends in Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) uptake in schools, and as well as tips on how to increase engagement.

Current trends 

The Association for Language Learning is full of very committed, enthusiastic members who spend time passionately encouraging their students to continue from KS3 to GCSE and then onto A level. In many cases their enthusiasm and dedication pay off, but sadly the numbers are falling. Teachers inspire and all the cultural partners, institutions and companies connected to the Association for Language Learning are also all extremely enthusiastic and very committed to improving the situation. Teachers of languages know from their own experience how valuable the learning of a language is. They know because they have often travelled extensively and studied abroad. Mixing with many people from other countries supplies them with many anecdotes. This is one that I have used a number of times as I could tell the students real life examples of this.

‘’The ability to speak a foreign language could be the only thing in interviews for jobs that separates you from the rest of the candidates. It might be the competitive edge you need to secure it.’’

It seems to many people involved in language education that a national effort is necessary to improve the situation. There are a large number of universities, sixth form colleges and schools concerned about the falling numbers opting to take a language to GCSE. This in turn affects group sizes for A level and students going onto to study languages at degree level. This is affecting the numbers training to be teachers of languages. The British Council conducts a survey annually and produces reports on language learning…

‘the twentieth edition this year saw the biggest ever response rate this year, revealing language learning at schools in England is in slow recovery after Covid-19 pandemic.’

Dr Ian Collen, based in Belfast, is the Language Trends 2022 author. The report is available here.

Individual teachers make a difference. Language departments led by an enthusiastic and forward-thinking head of department with the support of their leadership team make even more difference, but ultimately, we need communities behind schools and the government too. As stated already, in my opinion a national approach would make the most difference. This needs vision and financing well.

Some practical ideas

The use of some of these strategies may help individual language departments in schools in their efforts to achieve increased uptake.

  • Self- efficacy. Promoting confidence seems to be one of the most important ways to increase uptake. Giving KS3 learners a strong sense of ‘can do’ so that they believe they are really making progress in the language is key. They need to know how to make progress and that they are!

  • It is always good to involve sixth formers. If they can spare the time to work in a lesson with the younger ones this works so well. Also asking ex-students who have studied a language to A level or at university to record short messages, podcasts/video clips etc to encourage students to think about taking a language at GCSE is very motivating. Departments I have worked with have maps of the world and put photos on it to show where graduates are working.

  • There are many excellent examples of Language Ambassador schemes here and abroad. Primary and secondary schools across the country have schemes that are worth looking at as models. Click here for an example. Increasing uptake also means giving students opportunities to gain accreditation in their heritage language too.
  • A brief internet search of all the multi-national companies who have their headquarters in the local area and their recruitment process might help too as would inviting speakers who use languages in the workplace into assemblies.
  • Involving parents/ guardians/grandparents and the wider community. We live in an age in which everyone turns to the internet for answers. Could a quick answer guide to common questions that parents and guardians have about the option process be on the school website? With possibly some quotations by famous people who have benefitted from learning a language? And apps that help the learning process so that the family can support the process at home?
  • Increasing the exposure outside of lessons helps students to learn additional vocabulary and improve their pronunciation. They are also exposed to up-to-date changes and the nuances of the language. They often learn by listening; watching clips and films and listening to songs in the language. There are also more sources of bilingual texts available now than before.

Everyone I know who has learnt one, two or more languages has not only benefitted from their studies, but all aspects - from the wider perspective, maturity and deepening understanding that travel brings and above all friends in other countries. We have seen in recent years that life is uncertain and the ability to be flexible and think critically about situations is a vital part of education in the 21st century. We should ask what the purpose of teaching languages today really is and in particular the significance of the intercultural dimension of language teaching.

I would recommend Michael Byram’s book Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence Revisited and a consideration of the way he defines and describes Intercultural Communicative Competence as a starting point for those looking at curriculum models. Sufficient curriculum time devoted to the learning of a language in KS2 and KS3 is the best way to increase uptake at GCSE and beyond. It might be just a bit more time to make sure that curiosity about the wider world can be maintained at secondary level and enable teachers at secondary level to include some more interesting texts, short film clips or music. Or do any significant changes need to be made to ensure that the curriculum offers students the opportunity to be successful linguists?  


Continue the conversation with ALL and fellow MFL teachers and leaders at the National MFL Conference.

Click below to learn more.

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