Policy Papers

Policy papers connect research with policy through focusing on a specific piece of research and explaining its relevance for policy. The link to policy can range from pointing out conclusions and lessons for practice through to discussion of existing policies and practices and formulation of policy recommendations. In all cases the emphasis is on providing research evidence for criticising, endorsing or proposing a policy.


Healthy linguistic diet: the value of linguistic diversity and language learning across the lifespan

  • There is a widespread and often implicit tendency to consider monolingualism as the default state of individuals and societies. Multilingualism is considered in this context as a burden, posing challenges particularly to the education system.
  • In contrast, research evidence shows that multilingualism is common globally and on the increase in the UK. It is associated with better cognitive performance and higher academic achievement in children and with slower cognitive ageing, delayed onset of dementia and better recovery from stroke in later life.
  • These benefits can already be observed during language learning, long before learners become proficient, and have been reported in language learners off all ages.
  • We propose a positive re-evaluation of multilingualism illustrated by the notion of a ‘healthy linguistic diet’, based on the idea that exposure to different languages, learnt to different levels of proficiency, can have positive effects across the whole lifespan, benefiting individuals and societies.
  • We outline some practical implications of this concept, such as the inclusion of a healthy linguistic diet in the Healthy Schools Initiative and promotion of language learning and multilingual language use as a beneficial mental activity in healthy ageing.
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Learning foreign languages in primary schools: is younger better?

  • The teaching of a foreign language was introduced in the National Curriculum in primary schools in England in 2014 (Key Stage 2 – age 7–11). All children are now expected to study one foreign language for one hour per week.
  • This policy was primarily based on the belief that young children learn foreign languages faster, and that teaching foreign languages early to young children could therefore close the gap which currently exists between our young people and their European counterparts in terms of foreign language capability, making them more competitive on the global market.
  • Research shows, however, that children are slower at learning a foreign language than adolescents and young adults. This is because young children do not yet have well developed cognitive resources and therefore need abundant language input to compensate. The current one hour weekly, well below the several hours of teaching in many European countries, is insufficient to meet current expectations about achievement.
  • At the same time, research shows that young children are very enthusiastic towards the learning of foreign languages. There is, therefore, a strong case for an early start, in order to capitalize on this enthusiasm.
  • Research on current educational provision has highlighted two further areas of concern, in addition to the low amount of teaching input: (i) the transition between primary and secondary school is problematic because children arrive with very diverse foreign language experiences; (ii) the lack of specialist teachers, lack of training for teachers, and lack of adequate teaching resources.
  • Improving provisions for teacher training and resources is vital for the success of the current policy of teaching one foreign language in primary schools. A smooth transition between primary and secondary schools should also be ensured to mitigate its adverse effects on the motivation of young learners.
  • There are broader cognitive, cultural, societal and literacy benefits to learning foreign languages besides linguistic proficiency. These benefits need to become more central in the development of the primary languages curriculum and shape expectations.
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Multicultural London English and social and educational policies

  • The linguistic diversity of the UK presents a longstanding challenge for social equality and social mobility.
  • Only a small proportion of the population speaks or writes a variety that would be considered standard English grammar, yet standard English is needed in professional life and to succeed in education.
  • In schools, the National Curriculum requires students to be taught to use ‘standard English when the context and audience requires it’ (Department for Education 2014a); yet the available evidence indicates that this policy, intended to improve educational and social outcomes, has not been particularly successful.
  • Educational and institutional policies do not usually take account of the fact that social and regional accents are often perceived negatively and can cause discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, in life-changing situations such as oral examinations, job interviews or legal contexts.
  • The challenge has become even greater with the recent emergence of multiethnolects – new socially inclusive English dialects spoken in many multilingual urban centres – resulting from an increase in the amount and diversity of immigration.
  • We provide four concrete policy recommendations based on research into developing multiethnolects in the UK:

             1. Increase students’ exposure to standard English, while ensuring that they are not

                 discouraged from using non-standard English in appropriate contexts;

             2. Commission the production of descriptions of local non-standard varieties for teachers;

             3. Embed an understanding of non-standard varieties throughout the curriculum;

             4. Outside education, promote the inclusion of language in equality and diversity policy.

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Multilingual education for multilingual speakers

  • Around 1,700,000 primary and secondary school pupils in England speak English as an Additional Language (EAL). As a result, bilingualism and multilingualism is of central concern for local and national government.
  • A number of recent studies show that EAL pupils perform academically less well than their monolingual peers at all key stages. In addition, levels of fluency in English can predict achievement in English, Maths and Science.
  • These studies show that fluency in English is necessary for academic achievement but may also lead to the incorrect conclusion that bilingualism is an impediment to academic achievement.
  • These studies do not take into account the huge diversity among EAL students, specifically the huge variation in their levels of fluency and literacy in their home language. Research shows that literacy in the home language (biliteracy) and bilingual education more generally enhances literacy in the additional language as well as cognitive abilities, therefore, supporting rather than impeding fluency in English and academic achievement.
  • Current policy guidelines around multilingualism are supportive of oral skills in home languages, but assessment of literacy (reading and writing) skills is exclusively in English. The absence of promotion of literacy skills in the home language can lead to decline of the home language, depriving EAL pupils from the cognitive advantages of bilingualism, and the specific academic benefits of biliteracy.
  • The benefits of bilingual education and biliteracy need to be promoted in current government guidelines and specific initiatives are needed, e.g. support of community schools for teaching literacy, promotion of qualifications in community languages (e.g. GCSEs) to motivate young people to develop literacy skills in their community languages.
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Policy review: Wake me up in 2050! Formulating Language Policy in Wales

  • The revised Welsh language policy has set a very ambitious target of creating a million Welsh speakers by 2050 which is supported by all political parties.
  • Research into the priorities, decision-making and concerns of language policy formulators highlights the difficulties they face in realizing political promises and can point to evidence-based strategies for language revitalization.
  • Without substantial investment in formal education, teacher training, the child care sector and the economic development of predominantly Welsh speaking regions, the 2050 target is unlikely to be met.
  • Structural difficulties in integrating the programmes of large departments of the Welsh Government militate against holistic and effective planning to reach the target.
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Policy review: The role of assessment in European language policy - a historical overview

  • European language policy is led by two intergovernmental institutions: the Council of Europe and the European Union (EU). European language policy over the past 40 years involves three differentiated periods.
  • The first one spans from the late 1980s throughout the 1990s, when assessment was mainly seen as part of wider language education initiatives funded and developed by the Council of Europe and the EU. This period culminates in the early 2000s with the launch of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and the establishment of the EU’s goal of ‘mother tongue + 2’.
  • In 2001, the Council of Europe and the EU joined forces to celebrate for the first time the European Day of Languages (EDL), which has been celebrated annually ever since. This marked the beginning of more intense cooperation between these two institutions.
  • The second period is marked by the need to measure progress in the development of language competences, with language assessment as the central instrument for policy making.
  • Between 2008–2011, the European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC) was conducted to collect data towards the EU’s indicator on language competences.
  • The third period starts in late 2015, with the EU moving towards closer cooperation with Member States to promote integrated approaches to learning, teaching and assessment not only in education, but also across a variety of policy fields, such as employment or social integration.
  • Rather than regularly repeating the ESLC, as initially planned, and given the difficulty of comparing results from national exams, in September 2015 the EU shifted the policy focus towards integrated approaches to learning, teaching and assessment.
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Can global cities have a language policy?

  • Major cities are becoming ever more linguistically diverse – the outcome of increased mobility, but also of greater opportunities that immigrant communities have to support and maintain their languages through access to resources, communication technologies, and increasing social acceptability of multi-layered identities.
  • In diverse, post-industrial urban settings with a constant influx of new arrivals and a need for economic diversification, language provisions are key to ensuring access to services and employment, supporting cultural heritage and community cohesion, and harnessing skills to support global outreach for economic growth and development.
  • The complexity and rapid pace of change in urban settings mean that extensive, top-down regulatory frameworks for specific languages, of the kind that are often employed to protect regional and national languages, are not practical. Instead, policy and provisions must be responsive to demand and they need to involve a network of different players.
  • Changing patterns of demand create a need for constant monitoring and assessment of data. This requires the development of new tools for data compilation and new procedures of data assessment. To ensure proper support for provisions and quality assurance, efforts are needed to increase public awareness of language diversity, to build confidence in multilingualism, and to share and promote good practice in language planning, including teaching and interpreting provisions.
  • The need for new data tools and for public engagement and awareness-raising in regard to the value of languages opens an important space for the civic university, which can become a key player in the urban policy and planning environment.
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