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Breaking down barriers: why do we classify some languages as ‘community’ and others as ‘modern’?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital9 December 2021

It is claimed that, on average, one in five of school-aged children in Britain have a first language other than English (The Guardian). These languages are often labelled as ‘community languages’ with many of them identified as the ‘languages for the future’ (British Council) in terms of supply and demand.For instance, the top ten ‘languages for the future’ are Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Arabic and German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese and Russian, all of which are spoken in communities in Britain. Yet, as the Guardian article and numerous reports point out, support for the community languages in the UK education system, from early years to further and higher education, is seriously lacking.

Part of the problem is the labelling. Languages that are part of the school and university curriculum are usually called ‘modern languages’, ‘foreign languages’, or ‘modern foreign languages’. Some of the community languages (eg Italian, Mandarin Chinese) are part of the school curriculum, but most are not. The classification of which language is a modern language for schools, and which is a community language seems somewhat arbitrary and largely a result of the history of language teaching in this country. It is also connected to Britain’s (more…)