ARE THE DARK DAYS OVER FOR MFL?: THOUGHTS ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF LLC IN THE NEW CURRICULUM
For many MFL teachers in Wales, times have been tough. Despite clear messages from business that modern languages skills are in high demand; languages are seen by our pupils as a ‘hard’ option and the number of pupils choosing to study at least one foreign language at GCSE has declined. Consequently, secondary MFL departments have seen their A-Level classes cut due to budget pressures and this has led to some university MFL departments being forced to close their doors.
Our highly skilled languages teachers are working hard to combat a growing trend towards monolingualism through engagement with international business, improved pedagogy, inspiring guest speakers and trips abroad. MFL teachers have always known how valuable and transferable MFL based communication and literacy expertise is to our young people, but the pupils continue to believe that GCSE languages exams are much more challenging than those of other subjects. Anecdotally, the pupils also tell us that MFL papers are harshly marked and given the pressure on them to achieve high grades, this often puts them off choosing to study it at GCSE level. Some MFL teachers complain about a lack of support for the subject from their senior leadership team, which has led to MFL being pitted against more ‘popular’ options subjects.
Whatever the cause, many of our pupils have fallen out of love with our subject and all members of the education community need to work together to restore its reputation as a vital component of an enriching curriculum and a crucial 21st century skill.
The new Language, Literacy and Communication area of learning and experience promises to offer practitioners the opportunity to put MFL back in the hearts of our students and the wider school community.
The global futures plan aims to build capacity and support teachers to deliver MFL to pupils from year 5 onwards. The bilingual plus one agenda suggests that Welsh will be taught earlier than this. Pupils in English medium schools will have access to the joy of learning the sounds, structures and literature of the Welsh language together with a more scientific understanding of the syntax and linguistic structures of their mother tongue (perhaps influenced by MFL and Welsh teaching.) This early experience, if delivered purposefully and with the promised upskilling of our teachers, will offer important linguistic stepping stones to allow our pupils to access another language successfully from KS2. The new curriculum seems to be providing us with much needed time to nurture important skills in both our teachers and our learners without the pressure of nationally reported assessment. We could well have the chance to deliver language based projects with real-life outcomes. From an assessment point of view, perhaps a ladder of progress or skills continuum would be more suited to the next generation of linguists with opportunities for them to achieve differentiated, but nationally valued qualifications along the way using authentic contexts. Some linguists might then feel suitably empowered to continue to study a second or even third modern foreign language
Communication is fundamental to a child’s development and children with poor speech and language skills are more likely to find reading and writing difficult. In some cases, a lack of communication skills can lead to disruptive behaviour and problems with friendships and relationships. We know that businesses need their employees to have an appropriate level of communication skills and they are also required to adapt their skills to suit a specific audience. Communication skills need to be taught and the new curriculum will encourage us to focus attention in this important area.
By combining the skills of our MFL, Welsh and English practitioners across the key stages, and allowing us to begin planning this change together, we have the chance to create a new curriculum. We need to coach our learners to understand how to master syntactic systems and how language (foreign or otherwise) can be best used to transmit formal and informal ideas both orally and through the written word.
Without a clear grasp of the rules and semantics of at least one language, our pupils will not have access to wider knowledge in any subject and, therefore, our role as MFL specialists within future LLC faculties is crucial and should be valued by all.