Why Make Languages of the World Fun and Interesting in a Post-Brexit UK?To suggest a correction please Login

foreign languages in Great Britain after Brexit


The problem: 

In a post-Brexit UK, foreigners will likely have a more difficult time taking up UK residence.  Without foreigners bringing language talent to the UK, the country will likely find itself slipping behind economically. This is because trading it will be less effective at trading its goods and services abroad. The UK will still need languages to communicate and to trade goods and services with the rest of the world. The English language alone is not enough. Cultural skills will also be needed.  Since the Brexit referendum, bullying has also increased.

The solution:

Approximately one million UK children speak a language other English at home. (See page 68 of the PDF)  It is important to recognise home languages because it helps students to prosper bi-culturally and bilingually. An effective way to do so is to educate in both English and in home languages. In addition, bilingual children should be encouraged to share their languages with other children in the schools. This can serve to build empathy and reduce bullying as well as foster a post-Brexit UK where language skills become more widespread.

This article will offer suggestions on how to make language learning fun and relevant in a post-Brexit UK. It will first explain what has been done so far in UK language learning. Then it will offer ideas on how the UK educational system can increase an interest in language learning. It will also suggest how the UK can improve language learning.
Now that I’ve outlined some reasons why this is an important issue, I attempt to offer what has been done so far and make an effort to add other solutions as well:

1. In a pre-Brexit paper titled, ‘Languages for the Future Report’ The British Council recognises three main reasons that language-learning is important for the UK:

  • commercial
  • cultural
  • diplomatic

The report recognises that the U.K. needs language and cultural knowledge. It recognises the value of all languages. The report uses ten indicators to explain why the top ten recommended languages to learn in the UK are:

  1. Spanish
  2. Arabic
  3. French
  4. Mandarin Chinese
  5. German
  6. Portuguese
  7. Italian
  8. Russian
  9. Turkish
  10. Japanese

2. Approximately one million UK children speak a language other English at home. It is important to foster their cultural and language skills. The UK will benefit in the long-run from its bi-cultural and bilingual population. That is why the education system should allow them to complete their education in both English and in their home languages. In addition, bilingual children should be encouraged to share their languages with other children in the schools. This can serve to build empathy and reduce bullying as well as foster a post-Brexit UK where language skills become more widespread.

3. Consider the example of Newbury Park Primary SchoolThe school has taken some steps in this direction, with ‘Language of the Month’ where children from age nursery to year 6 participate. Each month one pupil becomes a ‘language expert’ recording words and phrases for all to learn. The resources are available on their website to encourage other schools to follow suit.

4. Eithne Gallagher spoke at the Polyglot Conference in Thessaloniki in October 2016. Eithne is a linguistic consultant and author, with expertise in how to bring home languages into the classroom. Her methods are on a deeper level than what Newbury Park Primary School is doing.


5. To draw on what has been done so far and to offer further ideas on how the UK educational system can increase an interest in language learning as well as possibly suggest how the UK can improve language learning, one can say it is a significant challenge, as each teacher is unique and success depends on the teacher’s interest in adopting the project. It is likely that some teachers will implement new policies only in a perfunctory way and not engage in the policies on a meaningful level. Even today some teachers are still advising parents whose home language is not English, to switch to English at home, for example.

6.Returning to the subject of the British Council’s paper:  the top ten languages spoken by schoolchildren in the UK consist of five from South Asia: Punjabi, Urdu, Gujarati, Bengali and Tamil, three from Europe (Polish, French and Portuguese), plus Arabic and Somali. So there is French, Portuguese and Arabic in the top ten of both lists. From this those following advice from the British Council could possibly argue that these three languages be the starting point to implement a project to carry home languages over to the wider public.  John Worne, Director of Strategy for the British Council, mentions that French, Spanish and German will continue to be important to the UK and that more Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Turkish will also be needed. One thing pointed out in Linguist List is that one can raise societal prestige of languages such as Urdu and Bengali by encouraging all to learn them, not just those with the ethnic background of these languages.

The report also recommends that schools take advantage of free or funded resources such as those in the area of the schools, online and through international connections to give young people opportunities to same a range of languages and cultures while in school and outside of school. By this logic and by the logic that each language is valuable, all languages should be shared and showcased.

What methods can be used to encourage children to develop their home language to a high level? The British Council suggests songs, stories, jokes, rhymes, DVDs, TV shows, chats, keeping in touch with family via Skype and letter-writing.

Additionally, I recommend taking four of Eithne Gallagher’s suggestions for international school and hiring all teachers in any school in UK with characteristics, which she recommends for international schools, both administration and teachers: 1) working knowledge of at least one other language; 2) interest in language learning, 3) openness to other cultures, bilingualism and biculturalism, 4) informed on first and second language acquisition.

Another way to make language fun is to tell a fairy tale which involves the entire class. The main story can always be in English, but each student can input a language that he or she also knows or wishes to learn. Students in the classroom who may be more introverted in English may turn out to be more extroverted when given a chance to help somebody in a language they know better than another student. See the result of such a story in this video:

Fairy tales have common endings in many languages and are a great way to encourage students to pick up other languages.

Other activities that can be fun, include incorporating trips into nature, museums, parks where different languages are used. Cooking and games are additional activities that can be enjoyable for the children and give them the opportunity to practice other languages. One example could be to have students bring in recipes in their home languages and take turns cooking the recipes and discussing the ingredients and the cooking implements in the different languages spoken by the students.

Above and beyond that possibility, Monica Ward of the School of Computing at Dublin City University is looking into Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). This can be used for migrants and migrant families. This offers online, often free resources for language learners and can help migrant children develop their mother tongues. Keeping a mother tongue alive helps family cohesion, cultural and self-esteem issues.  In addition the tools can also help other students learn new languages inside and outside the schoolroom.

Another example is how home languages are encouraged in Sweden, where students’ mother tongues are often taught in the afternoon, after regular school hours. Classes after hours help students keep touch with their home language and culture. There is generally a parallel class on the same subject being taught in Swedish.

Additional Ways of Making Language Learning Fun and Interesting

Supplementary ways to make language fun is to work with pen pals and to have students writing and practicing their languages with people in different countries and building cultural and geographical awareness. Creating a network of schools across different countries can help facilitate this idea, with the establishment of contacts from many different schools around the world. One could also consider hiring teachers of the top languages that the British Council sites as language need and of most common home languages. This would be a way to showcase the home languages while also encouraging language acquisition for those languages the British Council feels will be of greatest benefit to the UK in the future.

Children also like comics and cartoons. Bringing in content with cartoons and comics from the home languages of the children is an additional way of of encouraging fun while teaching languages and encouraging students to gain exposure to new languages and different cultures.

Another suggestion is to take a survey of the hobbies of those in the classroom and see if it would be possible to incorporate language learning into the hobby and integrate it into the classroom.

One of the things that is discouraging about learning a language is when the focus is only on speaking correctly. The grammar can come later in the form of a review but in an encouraging context.

The class could watch a variety of short movies and TV clips from different cultures in different languages and discuss cultural differences and talk about the sounds of different languages and some of the key words in the language relevant to the movie.

Language Challenges are another enjoyable way to encourage people to learn a language. In a language challenge, somebody tries to improve a language as much as possible in a given amount of time, for example in three months. Students have accountability groups to encourage them and to try to keep them on target.

There are people in nursing homes in Brazil who seek virtual companions and language partners. This could be an opportunity for UK students to pick up some Portuguese while helping build cross-generational understanding and helping Brazilians learn some English.

Online there are also many different kinds of newspapers for children in a variety of languages. One could find out the online newspapers in the home languages of the students in the classroom and regularly ask the students to share and discuss and article of their choice. Students could also discuss differences in grammatical structure, current affairs, objectivity and lack of it in journalism and point out key vocabulary and cultural points from each article.

Students could also choose the hundred most common words in the classroom and label them in two or three of the languages of the classroom and rotate and take turns. When the rotation is done, students could be given notes to see how many of the words they can remember in the other languages.

Another idea is to consider using different languages to discuss the layout of a nearby park or the school ground by incorporating it into a game. For example, students can create a treasure hunt in their home language using key elements such as landmarks, trees, bushes, flower beds, pavements, gates and the like. Students could learn how to give and receive directions in different languages.

Furthermore, if the students could create a story where each student could also be asked to write a certain number of words. One word out of ten or twenty could be replaced by a word in a home language the students. Students could be asked to add to the plot one after the other, with all students who know more than one language substituting words, as is done by One Third Stories. Once the last student has written a conclusion to the story, the complete story can be shared with the class, and the different words that popped into the story can be deduced from he context.

Books in home languages should also be encouraged. Students could bring books from home and share them and discuss them with the class. Children’s stories as well as comics and other books could be of interest to share with the classroom.

Having returned from the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava in June 2017, I can also add improvisation to the activities to encourage language learning and practice. Improvisation works best when language learners are already have already reached at least an intermediate level. In Bratislava, our workshop by Marion Viau featured several different forms of improvisation. This included several different games such as role plays, a ‘freeze’ game where the context changed with each person who replaced the outgoing player, as well as ‘five ways to’ accomplish a given task which one player arbitrarily imposes on another.

These are just a few ideas for how to make world language learning fun and interesting in a post-Brexit UK. Making sure that teachers and school staff encourage bilingualism and biculturalism will likely take time. While including enthusiasm and understanding of these areas will be important for the hiring of future staff and teachers, it will be important in the meantime to try to make implementing the ideas in this paper fun and interesting for the existing school administration and teachers as well. So to the greatest extent possible, I recommend that the teachers and administrators also be encouraged to participate in things with the students such as the language challenges and story writing.

I hope that the ideas in this article will strike an interest in schools around the world reaching out to each other more and sharing ideas for creating cross-cultural understanding and awareness of different ways to may language learning fun and interesting. My recommendations for future writing and research on this topic would be qualitative interviews with the people most affected by this subject, namely the students, the parents, the teachers and the administrators of the schools. By learning more about their thoughts and feelings in a qualitative way, I would hope that we can build greater empathy and understating of the challenges and opportunities behind implementing some of these ideas and understanding which ones are most worthwhile by bringing the greatest interest, the greatest learnings and the greatest joy to the classroom, to the home and to the greater society.

The next step then would be to gather together several stories to create a broad picture around the various perspectives of those most impacted by the topic. The stories that can be told include that of the teacher trying to deal with a multicultural classroom, the parents who are observing that their child’s ability in the home language is being surpassed by English, and the student’s feelings toward the home language.

Yozzi welcomes guest interviews and guest posts in a variety of languages, especially from those who wish to practice their target languages rather than writing or interviewing in their strongest language. Use the contact form to express your interest.

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