The MFL Student Mentoring Project was designed as a response to the ongoing decline in the number of learners choosing to study a (modern foreign) language past the compulsory stage of KS3 in Wales. Learners studying at Key Stage 3 are between 11-14 years of age, which equates to Years 7, 8 and 9 in Wales, England and Northern Ireland and S1, 2 and 3 in Scotland.
The project has been funded by the Welsh Government’s Global Futures Strategy for languages since 2015 and is now a core component of the renewed Global Futures Strategy for 2020-22.
The project focuses on changing attitudes and perceptions of languages by training undergraduate students in four Welsh universities ( Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea) to mentor Year 8 and 9 learners (12-14 years old) in Welsh secondary schools to appreciate the value and benefits of language learning.
The project has inspired a similar scheme in England – Languages Horizons
Since 2015, the project has grown from working with 18 Welsh secondary schools in the first year, to engaging 95 secondary schools in 2019-2020. The project has inspired the development of a comparator project in England, Languages Horizons and supported a sister-project in Wales for Physics. The project team have also developed an international partnership with the Spanish region of Castilla y Leon.
Specially designed training supports mentors to employ multilingual methodologies and to tease out cross-curricular links about languages, cultures and peoples. Undergraduate mentors show younger learners that languages do not sit in silos but actively interact with other subject areas, embedded in the lived experience of the everyday.
2020 has brought new challenges and opportunities for language learning
The project supports the multilingual approach of the Curriculum for Wales, challenging younger leaners to consider their proximate and distant language environments – moving from bilingual to multilingual. Within the supported space of a near-peer relationship, mentors and mentees can challenge perspectives, displace assumptions about languages and grow motivation for lifelong language learning. Self-expression and connectivity to our local and global are core to the Curriculum for Wales and to the project. Languages are about who we are, where we are and who we want to be in the future - not just about a GCSE.
2020 has brought new challenges and opportunities for the project
The rapid transition to online/remote learning enforced by Covid-19 left most learners in Wales with little formal or ‘live’ support for their language learning. Yet paradoxically, the inertia of lockdown has also made us more aware of the value of communication in multiple forms, such as the longing for a hug (gestures), learning how to communicate online (visual, written and/or oral) and re-learning how to form relationships at a distance. As we return to the classroom, we can draw on these lived experiences to change attitudes towards languages, cultures and communication.
Language mentoring moves online
For 2020-21, the project will be fully online and will support secondary schools in Wales in three ways:
1.Online mentoring for Years 8 and 9 https://www.mflmentoring.co.uk/project_streams)
2.NEW! a Post-16 Languages Recovery Project https://www.mflmentoring.co.uk/project_streams)
3.NEW! a suite of online resources for Key Stages 3 and 4, developing the approach of the Curriculum for Wales https://www.mflmentoring.co.uk/project_streams)
The project will continue to work on changing attitudes and growing motivation. Over the last five years, 40-50% of participating mentees have gone on to opt for a language at GCSE (as opposed to the national average in Wales of 18% in 2018). The project will maintain this momentum whilst supporting the development of new practices. Whilst the international can seem ‘distant’, not least due to continued lockdown, the importance of language learning in and beyond Wales has never mattered more.