The MFL curriculum is not meeting students’ needs in the 21st century and needs a complete overhaul. Discuss.
Several of the podcast episodes so far have looked at alternative approaches to teaching language and languages in school, such as creative translation, multilingual poetry, and introducing concepts from the science of linguistics more explicitly from an early age. But why do we need to reform language education? Is it the rationale? The pedagogy? The policies supporting it? In this episode, I’m talking to a Head of Modern Languages in a secondary school, a blogger and activist who is calling for fundamental curriculum reform for language education. He goes by the nom de guerre ‘MFL Transform’ on Twitter.
Theatre and roller skates
If the GCSE languages course were a restaurant, and the teachers are the waiters, what exactly are we serving up to our students? How does the MFL curriculum ‘menu’ and price point (the grades) compare to other GCSE subjects? Why would students choose our restaurant over another?
Or to use another metaphor, if our subject is a theatre, and we are the exhausted performers trying to entice our ever-dwindling audience to stay and enjoy the show, have we stopped recently and looked at whether the show is still relevant to them?
MFL teachers sometimes feel like all-singing, all-dancing performers in five matinées a day. I know I felt exhausted teaching French to an audience of reluctant teens. It was also killing my own joy of a subject I love, teaching such a repetitive curriculum. I felt I was just distracting teens from the fact they were learning French with games and high-energy activities. Is the subject not intrinsically motivating already?
Has the curriculum changed much in the last thirty years? How did the GCSE MFL curriculum get designed? What are the policies behind it?
The world’s greatest thinkers have always been multilingual@MflTransform
I had a lot of questions to put to @MflTransform about how we have ended up at this place of serious decline in MFL. Under 50% of the GCSE student cohort take a GCSE in a language now, and the figures for A Level have been in decline for decades. There is also a low conversion rate from GCSE Spanish to A Level Spanish, even though numbers are more positive for Spanish than French or German. In part one of our two-part series about transforming MFL, we address some of the issues around motivating pupils, approaches to teaching languages, and why we are even teaching languages at all in the age of Google Translate and AI.
The key question is what is the value of a languages-rich curriculum? Is learning a language only for practical and transactional purposes? Since the GCSE was created to replace O Levels in the late 1980s, the Internet has happened. How we face up to that enormous change in the way we communicate is really important. Our current students have never known life without the internet. They don’t need to ask for directions: they can Google it. So MFL needs to address this digital native generation in a language they can understand.
It’s a very exciting time to be a languages teacher. Please join the conversation on Twitter by following @MflTransform and @LangRevolution – let’s talk about talking!