The Linguist

The Linguist 59,2 - April/May 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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6 The Linguist Vol/59 No/2 2020 NEWS & EDITORIAL The all-party group considers new research on the gender gap in languages education Inside parliament In January, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Modern Languages hosted the launch of the report 'Boys Studying Modern Foreign Languages at GCSE in Schools in England'. Conducted by the Education Policy Institute, the study was commissioned by the British Council to understand how schools can encourage more boys to study modern foreign language (MFL) subjects at GCSE. It focuses on statistical modelling to gain insights into the pronounced gender gap that persists in language entry and attainment. Girls are twice as likely as boys to take a language GCSE, and achieve much higher results – particularly in French and Spanish. Gender is a stronger predictor of success in languages than a pupil's level of disadvantage. The research also identifies schools in England that are 'beating the odds', and seeks to identify what it is about these schools that makes them more successful at closing the gender gap. This research is very important in the context of current MFL policy in England, which aims for 75% of students to achieve the Ebacc (a good grade in five core subjects, including a language) by 2022, rising to 90% by 2025. While this is, essentially, already achieved in English, maths, science and the humanities (history/geography), pass rates for MFL are stuck below 50%. This has led to calls for languages to be dropped from the Ebacc, and to schools ignoring the Ebacc altogether in favour of other performance measures, such as Progress 8, where MFL can be excluded. Languages are the only Ebacc subject with a clear gender divide. If boys' uptake and attainment could be brought up to the level of girls', the 2022 Ebacc target would be met. However, the report also noted that this gender divide is decades old. The analysis of the 32 'odds beating' schools did not uncover anything revolutionary in their methods, just the best practice formula of senior management support (such as allotting sufficient curriculum time to languages and encouraging all students to enjoy and take up language learning), good departmental leadership and organisation, and varied, creative yet structured teaching methods. Many schools across the country already work towards such a model. The report recommends further research into the cross-curricular benefits of language learning, ministerial action on addressing the gender divide, and action by Ofqual (the exams regulator) to encourage more inclusive language learning for all through the assessment regime. In the media PHILIP HARDING-ESCH In terms of UK education policy, the long- awaited government reshuffle yielded few changes, with Gavin Williamson remaining as Secretary of State and Nick Gibb as Schools Minister. They faced strong calls for language policy change following the publication of two reports that were given a lot of press attention, as they revealed that the language skills of young people are much worse in the UK than in Europe, and that girls continue to do better than boys. News from the devolved governments indicated that sustained public policy can lead to significant results. The BBC covered news that Welsh is no longer in danger of dying out; and that children starting school in the Scottish Western Isles will now be taught in Gaelic. In Northern Ireland, the reopening of Stormont was accompanied by proposals for better Irish language provision, which The Belfast Telegraph described as a "historic advancement". During the awards season, the Korean-language film Parasite triumphed, prompting much media discussion on "why it's taken 82 years for a foreign language film to win best picture at the Oscars" (iNews). The BBC published a piece on the merits of subtitles vs dubbing. After the director declared that "once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films," The New York Times asked: "are we finally ready to embrace subtitles?" Let's hope so, as the media showed ever more interest in neuroscientific research on the benefits of bilingualism. The BBC covered the discovery that different languages "are affected differently by brain disease", which could be significant for the treatment of dementia, while The Times reported that multilingualism "can protect the brain against mental decline". Alberto Costa's book, The Bilingual Brain, attracted a lot of column inches too, with headlines making an attention-grabbing case for learning languages. Philip Harding-Esch is a freelance languages project manager and consultant. © SHUTTERSTOCK

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