Half of all students are open to language learning when choosing an option, new data shows.
The study, conducted by Cardiff University’s Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) Mentoring Project, gathered the opinions of 5,800 young people in grades eight and nine in Wales, just before they were asked to make a decision about which GCSEs to take would. It is the largest known data set in the UK that directly looks at learners’ opinions on language learning.
The results show that 48% of all learners surveyed were willing to consider learning a language at GCSE, despite the national average of 14.4% of Year 11 students being enrolled in a GCSE modern foreign language in 2021 .
There are also major differences in attitudes between international languages and Welsh compared to English in schools in Wales. The results show that out of 13 subjects, international languages were among the least enjoyable subjects, ranking 11th. Welsh was the least fun while English was the most fun.
The MFL mentoring project started in 2015 and is working with 140 schools to increase the number of young learners in Wales taking up international languages. An external evaluation shows that between 40-50% of the students supervised within the initiative decide to learn a GCSE language.
Project leader Lucy Jenkins at Cardiff University’s School of Modern Foreign Languages. said: “Although the national picture remains very worrying, the openness of learners to languages reported in this survey offers cause for hope. Last but not least, it offers us the opportunity to use the linguistic diversity of Wales to support positive international language choices at GCSE.
“However, these results are also a stark reminder that without urgent action it may not be feasible for schools to continue to offer an international language as an option at GCSE and A Level if the current decline continues. Although we have heard anecdotes from teachers about learners’ views, this report gives us the clearest picture yet of learners’ attitudes towards languages in relation to other subject areas.
“In launching the curriculum for Wales, it is paramount that we take the opportunity to improve learners’ overall appreciation of languages - which include English, Welsh and international subjects – as an important part of their personal and professional development.”
According to the data, the majority of students consider core subjects more important for their career than an international language. And while English was the best overall performer, STEM subjects were chosen 1.3 times more than humanities and four times more than arts.
Preliminary results also suggest that black, Asian and ethnic learners, as well as those whose parents speak more than one language, are more likely to choose an international language at GCSE.
Differences in the profile of learners who choose an international language remain stark, with female learners twice as likely to learn a language as male learners.
Professor Claire Gorrara, Academic Director of the MFL Mentoring Project, added: “Learning a language offers so much to students. Not only does it improve their future prospects, but it also gives them confidence, a broadened perspective and a whole host of highly transferrable skills.
“Our work with student mentors and schools shows the difference a greater emphasis on language learning can make on students. It’s vital that more is done to make languages a more attractive proposition for students to believe it could be a viable option for them.”
The number of Welsh students studying a modern language at GCSE has fallen by 64%. In England, intake has fallen by 48% over a similar period.
As part of the MFL Mentoring Project, university mentors from five partner universities are trained to work alongside learners in grades 8 and 9 to inspire an intrinsic love and motivation for language learning and cross-cultural communication.
Students who identify themselves as multilingual perform better on exams
The study is available online: mflmentoring.co.uk/publications/
citation: Learners open to languages just before they select GCSE options, the report shows (2022, March 17), retrieved on March 17, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-03-learners-languages -gcse-option-choices. html
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