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.

Embedding languages policy in primary schools in England: summary of the RiPL White Paper proposing solutions

  • The statutory requirement to teach a modern or ancient language at Key Stage 2 (ages 7–11) took effect in September 2014; the first cohort of children made the transition to secondary school in September 2018 and are now in their fifth year of language learning.
  • The introduction of a modern or ancient language to the national curriculum at Key Stage 2 represents an exciting but challenging requirement for most schools.
  • No additional central or regional funding has been made available to support such major reform, and no formal monitoring or evaluation of children’s progress and attainment is in evidence.
  • In the absence of a nationally commissioned evaluation of the impact of the new policy, the Research in Primary Languages network (RiPL) undertook a research-informed analysis resulting in a White Paper.
  • Drawing on available research and published data, the White Paper outlines the context and nature of particular challenges in implementing policy and offers fresh insights into possible solutions to strengthen provision.
  • Analysis of available data found patchy provision in a number of key areas, with large variations between schools in the amount of time dedicated to languages, expectations of children’s progress, teachers’ subject knowledge and professional training, monitoring of pupils’ progress, and transition arrangements between primary and secondary.
  • Research evidence has demonstrated the importance of amount of input and age-appropriate activities, a sense of achievement, progress, and motivation. Research has also shown how foreign language learning is closely linked to the development of literacy in the first language.
  • Teaching time, teacher language proficiency and teaching approach have also been found to be closely linked to learning outcomes.
  • The RiPL White Paper makes ten recommendations, focussing on: time allocation; curriculum planning; transition arrangements; assessment and reporting; use of digital technology; school accountability; school leadership; the strategic role of research; and the setting up of a National Task-Force for Primary Languages (NTPL).
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Modern languages and mentoring: Lessons from digital learning in Wales

  • This article considers the role that mentoring, and in particular online mentoring, can play in tackling the decline in modern language learning at GCSE level in Wales.
  • It evaluates Digi-Languages, a blended learning experience that pairs university student linguists with secondary school learners of languages to improve MFL uptake at GCSE.
  • This article examines the conception, design and early outcomes of Digi-Languages.
  • The article evaluates the experiential learning of the mentees (Year 9 learners) and explores the ethos underpinning resource development and the project’s key messaging around culture and languages.
  • The article provides recommendations for the expansion of Digi-Languages to support broader language policy objectives in Wales, including the Welsh Government’s policy of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.
  • The article concludes with suggestions for the extension of Digi-Languages to other regions of the UK and overseas and its potential as a model for stimulating inter-cultural conversations on the lifelong value of languages.
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Is it possible to differentiate multilingual children and children with DLD?

  • The language profiles of monolingual children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) and typically developing multilingual children can overlap, presenting similar paths and delays in learning specific aspects of language in comparison with typically developing monolingual children of the same age.
  • In an increasingly multilingual society, it is essential to develop guidelines and tools for differentiating the two populations, avoiding both under- and over-diagnosis of language disorders in multilingual children.
  • Many multilingual children have a narrower vocabulary compared with monolinguals of the same age. Therefore, grammatical features are considered more reliable clinical markers of a possible disorder.
  • Clinical markers for children with DLD are language-specific. For example, in English-speaking children with DLD, verb endings may be omitted, as in “*Mary cook it”. For Italian or French children with DLD, a reliable marker is therealisation of certain pronouns, as in Mary lo cucina, “Mary it cooks”, with omissions or substitution of the pronoun lo depending on age. 
  • Despite similarities between multilingual children and children with DLD, it is possible to distinguish between the two groups after multilingual children have at least two years of exposure to their second language (L2).
  • Multilingual children can learn their L2 fully, while this is generally not the case for monolingual children with DLD; however, children’s success in learning their L2 depends onlength of exposure to the language, the type of multi-language experience, and the structural relatedness of the two languages.
  • Clinicians need to be aware of the type of language experience, the length of exposure to the L2, the linguistic characteristics of the child’s first language (L1) and the specific clinical markers of DLD in all languages. 
  • DLD will affect all the languages of a multilingual child, so assessment of all the child’s languages – wherever possible – is helpful in teasing apart developmental differences and disorders.
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Linguistic diversity in the classroom: the wise teacher’s dilemma

  • Urban schools in Belgium have become increasingly multilingual. This invites pedagogical challenges as pupils struggle with the instruction language, but it leads to ideological anxieties in Dutch-medium schools especially.
  • Recent studies show that Flemish teachers have negative attitudes towards the use of other languages than Dutch. These studies call for anti-bias training and for a teacher education that lives up to the current multilingual reality.
  • There are good reasons however for expecting that teachers will waver ambivalently between linguistic uniformity and diversity, because they associate both ideas with important, albeit competing, educational purposes.
  • Developing positive attitudes towards multilingualism is possible. But the effects of such an endeavor may be limited, and the expectations about what teachers are capable of unrealistic, if it is ignored that teachers will also attend to linguistic uniformity, at least in the present circumstances.
  • Policy debate needs to take into account that teachers have to strike a balance between competing pedagogical purposes and societal concerns. Advocates of multilingualism at school may be more effective if they associate linguistic diversity not just with attitudes of tolerance and respect, but also with knowledge, qualification, and assessment. 
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Language education in the era of Brexit: three challenges for the schools’ sector

This paper focuses on language learning at school level and identifies three policy challenges emerging from the 2016/17 Language Trends survey of primary and secondary schools in England, namely: 


  • Inequalities in access to, and participation in, language learning. The research shows that these are geographic, socio-economic and gender-related.
  • The need to reinvigorate language learning in primary schools and forge more coherent pathways between primary and secondary schools if the aspirations of the national curriculum and for the English Baccalaureate are to be fulfilled. 
  • The challenges posed by Brexit itself in terms of supply and retention of language teachers, motivation to study languages, and opportunities for pupils and teachers to learn through engagement with native speakers and their cultures.  
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Moving from a National to a Transnational Curriculum: the Case of Italian Studies

  • In the context of widespread change in Higher Education and of disciplinary innovation across the Arts and Humanities, it is clear that Modern Languages is at a crucial juncture. 
  • Italian studies, in common with all subfields in MLs, needs to demonstrate how the range of approaches that are now pursued within the subject area, share a common framework, the purpose of which is to provide a series of critical strategies that allow us to see how cultures operate in the past and the present, how they interact and how they define human being in the world. 
  • In a world of ever-increasing mobility and global interaction, MLs needs to develop the study of the national with the study of the transnational and, in the process, to demonstrate how inquiry into linguistic and cultural translation is at the basis of our branch of study. 
  • The paper outlines the different elements of the AHRC project ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages’ (2014-2017) and the contribution that it is making to curricular reform. 
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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). Children now study one foreign language for up to 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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