The importance of learning languages will be obvious to all readers of this blog, but for many young people across the world, languages are increasingly seen as an unattractive option to study in school. In the UK, for example, foreign language learning is now at its lowest level in UK secondary schools (11-16 years) since the turn of the millennium. Moreover, a third of all secondaries have dropped at least one language from their GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) options.
To try and tackle this problem, governments at a national and international level have launched a range of different initiatives. The EU, for example, has outlined a “Recommendation on a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning of languages” as it works towards achieving its goal that every European should be able to speak two foreign languages from an early age.
You can read our comprehensive review of international government support for language education from our other blog post.
So how can institutions motivate students to study languages when they’re optional courses? And what can language teachers do to make language learning more attractive for students?
This blog post outlines six big ideas that could help turn the tide. If you’ve got any other ideas, we’d love to hear from you and to feature them in a future blog post. Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them and add in Sanako’s Twitter account and we’ll publish the best ones!
1. Make language learning real
The ability to speak one or more additional languages can be a key to unlocking a world of opportunities. But too often language teaching is seen as boring, dry and repetitive – it’s vital that students can immediately see how lesson content applies to the real world and how their skills can help them gain a competitive advantage – whether in applying for university or getting a great job.
Ensure therefore that lessons include relevant real-world scenarios and that students are engaged, motivated and inspired to learn with compelling course content. And, of course, prioritise their opportunities to practice using the target language and to develop their key skills, especially speaking and listening.
2. Make it relevant
In an increasingly globalised world, it’s easy to find language and cultural touchpoints and topics that resonate with students wherever you’re based. Take the time to understand what motivates and inspires them and build / tailor your lessons around that. Whether that’s Italian food, Spanish football or Korean Pop, engage and excite students by linking lessons to their passions.
Whilst you’re at it, think about how content platforms like Netflix and YouTube or social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram could help. Could students demonstrate their knowledge by writing a blog post or creating a video? How could you use hit shows like Call my Agent (French) or Money Heist (Spanish) to develop appreciation and understanding of different cultures and languages?
3. Use external expertise
One of the main barriers to taking up languages is that students simply don’t see how learning a language can help them. So why not invite working professionals from different career paths to come into your school? Seeing someone explain how they actually use their foreign language skills every day can be really motivating and brings the power of languages to life.
For David Binns, Sanako’s Director of UK operations, this is a vital part of his role and he has now delivered over 300 talks to schools in the UK. His talks for students focus on the importance of language learning in building life skills and for future employability.
4. Innovate in your language teaching
“A high-quality language education should foster pupils’ curiosity and deepen their understanding of the world. It should also provide opportunities for them to communicate for practical purposes.” (English National Curriculum: languages programme of study 2013).
In addition to immersing students in their target language and giving them opportunities to use their developing skills, the type of lessons delivered can also be a key differentiator for language classes. The CLIL teaching approach (Content and Language Integrated Learning – further detail here) teaches other curriculum subjects such as chemistry, maths and PE through the target language. This enhances the appeal of languages by establishing formal links to other key topics and enables students to make connections and consolidate their learning.
You can find more ideas on this topic in our other post: “How can STEM subjects be integrated into language classrooms?“
Whilst on the subject of cross-curricular activities, events can be a great way to build enthusiasm and interest in studying language. Whether it’s embedding languages in whole-school assemblies, celebrating international events (e.g Mother Languages Day which is celebrated on 21 February) or running themed language days across all subjects, the only limit is your (or your students’) imagination.
Whole days focused on a single language are a great way to promote language learning and international cultures. Activities could include cooking, art and media from the chosen country or even playing games or dressing up. As always, a competitive element can be a powerful way to get students engaged and involved!
6. Highlight the benefits of language learning
As language educators, it’s in your best interest to get lots of students taking your courses, so don’t be shy about selling the benefits to them. Inspire them with your stories and personal experiences. Remind them that the word is their oyster and highlight the opportunities for work, travel and personal development that learning a new language can deliver. And if you need a reminder of why language learning is the ultimate 21st Century skill, you’ll find it here.
One final point to mention. It’s never too early to start using the tips and tricks outlined above – in fact the more language learning in early years education the better! It builds confidence and enthusiasm, making it more likely that students will stick with language learning throughout their education.
If you’re a passionate educator and would like to explore how Sanako’s teaching and learning technologies could motivate more of your students to study languages, click here or the banner below to learn more!
This blog post was last updated 25 May, 2023.