X Close

IOE Blog

Home

Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society

Menu

Language teaching and learning beyond vocabulary and grammar: our success stories

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 March 2022

Zhu Hua, Caroline Conlon, Camilla Smith, Fotini Diamantidaki and Áine McAllister.

The strong reactions from the language teaching and learning community to the Government’s French, German and Spanish GCSE subject content review are hardly surprising. If the review’s intention was to make the subject ‘accessible’ and to motivate students, then making a few tweaks to words, themes and topics, question types and grammar will not do the job.

Learning another language is not simply about putting words and sentences together; it is about communicating ideas, feelings and experiences; connecting with people and cultures and broadening horizons. Language curriculum, assessment and pedagogy need to focus on developing intercultural competence.

So what has worked well in classrooms? How do we create space for cultural exploration and exchange of perspectives? And what role does (more…)

In the balance: the artful mix that goes into becoming a Modern Foreign Language teacher

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 February 2022

Caroline Conlon.

JESHOOTS-com / Pixabay

Many teacher educators are concerned that the Government’s Initial Teacher Training Market Review and its ITT Core Content Framework impose too many generic requirements, and leave insufficient time for each subject’s unique characteristics and methods. Teaching and learning a second language is a complex, messy business and, as the Ofsted Subject Review on languages recognises, ‘there is no single way of achieving high-quality language education.’

Languages teachers, therefore, need not only to have subject knowledge expertise in the languages and associated cultures they teach, but also in second language learning theories and pedagogy.

The PGCE Secondary languages programme at UCL does not promote any single teaching (more…)

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…)

Talking their language: how London's university-school partnerships are helping to tackle the MFL crisis

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 January 2017

Caroline Conlon
In the ‘Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy Review’ published last November by the Teaching Schools Council for the Department for Education, Review chair Ian Baukham paints a bleak picture of language learning in England’s secondary schools. He says, ‘… currently fewer than half of pupils take a GCSE in a language’ and ‘beyond GCSE, modern languages are in crisis.’ He adds, ‘Without concerted action, languages in our schools are at risk, and may become confined to certain types of school and certain sections of the pupil population.’
On top of that, the Guardian reports that Brexit is threatening the supply of teachers who have come to the UK from Europe because Theresa May has refused to give EU nationals  any assurances that they will continue to be welcome. This is of particular concern for MFL teaching.
But as we demonstrate in our new book, Success Stories from Secondary Foreign Languages Classrooms – Models from London school partnerships with universities, all is not doom and (more…)

Why les deux sacred cows of the curriculum don't add up

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 March 2016

John White
I loved the algebra I did for my School Certificate in 1949 – and have never used it since. Ditto for a lot of the geometry. I agree with Simon Jenkins’s Guardian piece on March 10 that we make a fetish of mathematics in the secondary school. Like Kevin Williams,  I’d say the same about foreign languages (MFL) – for most people another non-usable subject. Post-basic maths and foreign languages make up nearly half of the five EBacc subjects which nearly all students will take GCSEs from 2020
But why use so much of their valuable school time on two subjects which only future specialists among them are likely to use? Some post-basic maths, agreed, is essential, not least basic statistics for civic education, plus the limited amount necessary to understand elementary science. This apart, we are in totem territory.
There is no good argument why more advanced mathematics or MFL should be compulsory for all up to 16. That said, there is a case for compulsory short taster courses in both (more…)

Mandarin makes sense for children and schools

Blog Editor, IOE Digital6 June 2014

Katharine Carruthers
Since the Prime Minister’s visit to China in December 2013, there has been more talk in the press not just about the rise of China, but also about the teaching of Mandarin Chinese. Does teaching Mandarin make sense for schools – for students, MFL departments or headteachers? From our perspective here at the Institute of Education (IOE), it certainly does.
Let’s take students first. Learning Mandarin Chinese has the same excitement for young people as any language, but more so. When you are 11, learning to conjugate sein or avoir can seem to take forever, but Chinese verbs don’t conjugate and there are no tenses. So the verb ‘to be’ is 是 and it is the same whether it is linked with I, you or they; to make 是 into a past timeframe, you just precede it with 昨天 (yesterday). Progression is easy.
The standard mantra is that characters are hard. This is not true and they often build up logically. Let’s look at a few. Note that they all have the same first character which means electric.
电脑 (electric brain),电话 (electric speech),电视 (electric vision),电影 (electric shadows).
I leave the reader to guess the English meanings, but answers are at the end of this blogpost. More of this approach to decoding characters can be found at www.chineasy.org. Take a look.
For students, learning Chinese is enriching culturally. Study of the language and culture enable an entirely different way of looking at things. Students move quickly beyond the Paul Merton in China comprehension of the country (i.e. that everything is weird) to a more complex understanding of aspects of an ancient culture and artefacts, the ever-popular martial arts and a thriving contemporary cultural scene.
Does teaching Chinese make sense for the MFL Department? It makes no sense not to. The students love it and there is plenty of evidence, albeit anecdotal (for we are yet to push forward on a substantive research agenda) that students who have not hitherto been motivated by language learning enjoy Chinese too. Nearly everyone is starting together at the beginning with characters. Characters are constructed from components; students enjoying shapes and looking for similarities are intrigued by the puzzle. There are no endings, so characters can be manipulated to make sentences easily.
At GCSE, where Mandarin Chinese is embedded in a school, results are often amongst the best in the MFL department. There are now good teaching materials available, written by teachers teaching Chinese in this country. There is a strong Chinese teaching community of native and non-native speaker teachers, which is mutually supportive. There is an Annual Chinese Conference for school teachers of Chinese – this year’s (the 11th) is on 6 June at the IOE with over 270 registered to attend.
Why should headteachers make room for Mandarin? Gone are the days when it was impossible to find a teacher. Mandarin Chinese teachers are doing PGCEs and coming into the system.
There is a chance to give your school an edge. Schools which offer Mandarin Chinese are finding that this is a ‘key draw’ for applicants. Some schools, for instance Kingsford Community School in Newham, have found that focus on Mandarin and Chinese culture for all has also proved a cohesive force for the school community.
Headteachers need to prepare their students for the future. As Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, said in the Guardian this week: “In an international world of tomorrow, I’d love to see more children in Britain having more than one language to be able to fall back on.”
There is no reason why not to add Mandarin Chinese to the range of languages on offer in school and lots of compelling reasons why it is a very good idea.
Katharine Carruthers is director of the Confucius Institute at the IOE.  This post was first published by The TES as part of Languages Week  
Answers to the character quiz:电脑(computer),电话 (telephone),电视 (TV),电影(films).