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.


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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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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