Languages Trends 2021 – The Bili Way
Bili's summary and our own take on Language Trends 2021. The decline in MFL deepens, but what can be done about it?
The webinar took place on Thursday 8th July – and Team Bili were delighted to attend! Dr. Ian Collen, as the principal investigator presented key findings from the British Council Languages Trends survey. Chaired by Vicky Gough, we heard from Helen Myers (MFL teacher at The Ashcombe School), Baroness Jean Coussins (co-chair of the APPG on Modern Languages), Michael Wardle (Ofsted) and Suzanne O’Farrell (ASCL MFL consultant). There was a brief introduction on the hashtags (#languagetrends) – so have a look on Twitter!
Headline findings are outlined below, and you can dig deeper by downloading the report from the British Council.
Each of the guests gave their reading of the report and picked up on a few questions in the discussion. We’ve pulled out some of the key points, focussing on positive strategies to address the languages challenge:
1. Transition: Ensuring continuity between primary and secondary schools. Suzanne O’Farrell in particular highlighted this as an area of concern and pointed teachers in the direction of ASCL’s Language Learning Transition Toolkit as a way of communicating more effectively between KS2 and KS3.
2. Curriculum: In recent months there has been lively debate in response to proposed changes to the MFL GCSE, including a response from the APPG from MFL (to which Bili added its support as an organisation). There was consensus that certain aspects could be improved upon, but this should be in careful consultation with all stakeholders (notably teachers), and does not require the tearing down of careful preparation and resources for the relatively recent current GCSE. Bili’s principle concern among proposed reforms is an apparent move-away from communicative skills and the international dimension (more on this later!).
“Many more job opportunities are opened if you simply carry on with GCSE French, Spanish or German”Baroness Jean Coussins
3. Severe grading: Helen Myers has been leading the charge on severe grading for a long time, and is explicit that this needs to be addressed as a separate issue. No matter what changes are made to the curriculum, time in the curriculum or within MFL pedagogy school leaders will hesitate to enter cohorts for languages and learners will be understandably less motivated upon seeing their grades are consistently lower when compared with other subjects.
4. Teachers: The work of teachers through the pandemic was recognised by all as heroic, adapting to online approaches, and supporting one another through strong professional communities. Helen reiterated the point we all know so well:
“We are indispensable in the language classroom, and I’m not biased at all!”Helen Myers
The headlines rather disappointingly led with the news that: “Most primaries stopped teaching languages in lockdown”. Whilst the diminished provision for language learning in the first lockdown is concerning, we’d prefer to address the elephant in the room and talk about the over-arching issue that must- and can – be addressed:
38% of secondary state schools and 64% of primary schools have no international activities.
So, what does Bili think:
Languages Are More Than Words
Languages are more than a string of words together and perfect grammar, there’s a whole world that opens up when you can communicate in another language including new cultures and a life “beyond your postcode” (quoting Emily Gasche, National MFL lead for Oasis Academies from our recent webinar). It’s about growing empathy for others and seeing a whole new world.
The current policy dialogue often focusses on making subjects easier to achieve higher grades and make languages more attractive (statistics around why it is important for the workplace etc.) but isn’t it more important that we make our pupils well rounded global citizens?
Bernardette Holmes MBE at our recent webinar telling us what she is ‘about’ and why being a global citizen is important.
The Real Issue
Yes, we can absolutely blame Covid-19, a lack of travel, a lack of funds and few language assistants but these are continuing trends – they don’t exist in a vacuum. The real issue is also nothing new: teachers don’t have enough time. Teachers are the piece of magic and sparkle in our classroom: they make amazing lessons, have wonderful and exotic looking classrooms, they care for each and every one of their pupils and will spend all of their time doing everything they can. Teachers everyday inspire their pupils (and continue to amaze) and while this year was no different, the move to online has meant that teachers have even less time and they simply can’t sustain the partnerships abroad. This, aggravated by Brexit and the loss of eTwinning has meant the workload just continues to mount up.
Bili Filling in the Gaps
Bili’s mission is to bring language learning to life in an authentic and accessible way – all you need is a device that connects to the internet! Being a Bili student means that all these seemingly abstract and obscure grammar rules and used in context and pupils see a purpose to the skills they are learning. They learn about their partners, the way they live and a whole new world opens up outwith their postcode and street they live. Bili students become global citizens and linguists without even realising – they gain confidence and world skills beyond what is made available in textbooks.
We pull together existing technology to make real interactions accessible and safe for schools. Bili addresses the WHY of language learning through the spark of real conversation (where there is a genuine language and culture ‘gap’), and changes the dynamic of language learning from the teacher as the only “expert” to mutual peer-to-peer support. Every Bilipal is both an expert of their own language and culture and a learner of the other.
Charlie Foot, Founder of Bili