Early Language Learning: What it (can) look(s) like…

On October 24-25 2019, the UK leg of Strand 5 organised a workshop for researchers and practitioners on issues of the teaching of foreign languages in the UK. What follows here is a little report on the workshop.

In the last few years, with funding from the MEITS project in the AHRC Open World Research Initiative, we have been researching as one of several questions: what might be the optimal age to learn a foreign language? We also looked at the possible influence of type of language acquired (i.e., is it better to provide a typologically closer language, or is it better to provide a popular language, or both, or is that irrelevant to the learner)?

In doing so, and in particular in trying to control for other factors including number of hours taught, transition from primary to secondary, support available to deliver the programme within and outside of the school etc., we became more and more aware of the diversity of the UK language teaching and learning landscape; its variety in approaches; its struggles but also its successes in the individual classrooms. Most importantly, we became aware of the enthusiasm and heart-and-soul approach of foreign language teachers in a country (and world) that struggles ever more to see why one should learn any other language but English.

In the two days, we wanted to hear from experts in the UK and abroad as well as from teachers and practitioners, how we can make foreign language teaching and learning prosper for years to come. We were hoping that a combination of presentations and group discussions would inspire all present, and lead to creative and innovative ideas that we might bring to the attention of policy makers in the near future.

Invited speakers to the workshop were: Prof Florence Myles (Essex), Prof Victoria Murphy (Oxford), Prof Simone Pfenninger (University of Salzburg), Mr Jan-Willem Chevalking (Radboud University Nijmegen), Ms Paula Ambrossi (UCL), Ms Darnelle Shepherd-Constant (UCL), Dr Lisa-Maria Müller (Chartered College of Teachers) and Ms Katherine Monument (Swavesey Community College) and Dr Lid King (The Languages Company). Approximately 45 participants attended.

Our main speakers had all researched the topic of early age foreign language learning in the classroom or were involved in teaching foreign languages (or foreign language teachers) themselves. They talked about successes and difficulties with approaches in the respective countries in which they have worked. Through this set-up, the workshop provided a place where original ideas could be exchanged, good practice could be shared, and the future of modern foreign language teaching in the UK could be better understood and further promoted. One of the results of the workshop was a list of proposals, ideas and requests for policy makers that have since been communicated to Helena Wright, one of the project’s CSaP Fellows. She will be taking these ideas forward and has already been in touch with one of the teacher-contributors in the Workshop.

The workshop was well received by both speakers and participants, and many participants requested to stay in touch with the MEITS network.

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