Language across the curriculum

by Karen Forbes

Language across the curriculum

Making a case for building more cross-curricular links between English and Foreign Language teaching in schools

-But Miss, I’m really bad at languages, why do I have to do French?

-What makes you think you’re bad at languages? You speak English really well, so you’ve already shown that you can be a really good language learner.

-No, but English doesn’t count, it’s not a language like French is.

-Of course English is a language.

-Yeah, but it doesn’t have like, verbs and tenses and stuff like French does.

The above conversation is one I had several years ago with a Year 7 student when I was teaching Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) in a secondary school in England. It is an example of the type of conversations which have made me reflect on the position of ‘language’ more generally within the curriculum and the respective priorities and responsibilities of English and MFL teachers in schools. These two subject areas are often based in separate departments in schools, yet given that both have a shared focus on developing important language skills, surely we are missing opportunities to establish more links between the two.

While the previous National Curriculum Programme of Study at Key Stage 3 (age 11-14) made some effort to encourage MFL teachers to make links to pupils’ literacy learning in English (QCA, 2007), this is conspicuous by its absence from the current Key Stage 3 National Curriculum which came into effect in September 2014 (DfE, 2014). It is also interesting to note that there were never any similar guidelines encouraging English teachers to explore connections to pupils’ MFL learning, and it seems as though opportunities have been lost to acknowledge the significant contribution of MFL learning to the understanding and use of language in general.

English has consistently enjoyed a high status in schools as a ‘core’ or ‘foundation’ subject. A report produced several years ago by OFSTED, the schools inspectorate, began with the statement that: “there can be no more important subject than English in the school curriculum. English is a pre-eminent world language, it is at the heart of our culture and it is the language medium in which most of our pupils think and communicate” (OFSTED, 2012, p.4). I am by no means questioning the importance of English in schools, however, given that it is often both the teaching subject and the medium of everyday communication, the focus on the language itself may paradoxically be less explicit (see Burley and Pomphery, 2003). As shown by the conversation outlined above, students do not necessarily consider it to be a ‘language’ in the same way as they would French, German or Spanish.

On the other hand, there has been a growing concern about the number and profile of students who choose to study a foreign language beyond the compulsory phase in secondary schools (Tinsley and Board, 2016). In fact, fewer than half of students now take a GCSE in a foreign language. Even where language study is compulsory, there is an increasing number of schools which ‘disapply’ students from MFL lessons in favour of additional literacy support in English, or because they are not considered to be ‘successful’ language learners. Yet I would argue that MFL teachers, who are able to focus more explicitly on language development, are in a unique position to contribute to the development of language skills more generally. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that learning foreign languages can positively impact students’ first language literacy development (see Forbes, 2016) This can be further encouraged when English and MFL teachers work together and share some common aims and practices with regard to the teaching of language.


Burley, S., & Pomphrey, C. (2003). Intercomprehension in language teacher education: A dialogue between English and Modern Languages. Language Awareness, 12(3-4), 247–255. doi:10.1080/09658410308667080

DfE. (2014). The national curriculum. DfE website. London. Retrieved from

Forbes, K. (2016). Cross-linguistic transfer of foreign language writing strategies: Developing first and foreign language writing through metacognitive strategy use. [PhD thesis]. University of Cambridge.

OFSTED. (2013). Improving standards in literacy: A shared responsibility. London. Retrieved from

QCA. (2007). The National Curriculum. London. Retrieved from foreign languages 2007programme of study for key stage 3.pdf

Tinsley, T., & Board, K. (2016). Language trends 2015/16: The state of language learning in primary and secondary schools in England. Retrieved from

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Note: comments are moderated before publication. The views expressed in the comments are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of the MEITS Project or its associated partners.

Related Strand

Related Blog Post

Related Articles

Find By Author


Project Strand:

Search the Blog

Our Partners