Learning a new language is said to boost brain power, improve memory, enhance multi-tasking ability and improve performance in other academic areas.
But there has been a growing trend in recent years for learners in secondary schools to drop languages in favour of other subjects as they progress into later years of study. A new Scottish scheme, piloted in the north-east, is aiming to buck this trend and inspire a long-lasting passion for language learning amongst young people.
The first of its kind in Scotland, the scheme culminates in a celebration event on Wednesday 31 May at the University of Aberdeen for all those who took part.
Scotland’s Languages Explorers Programme – a collaboration between SCILT (Scotland’s National Centre for languages), the University Council of Modern Languages Scotland (UCMLS), Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, the University of Aberdeen, the Open University, and Bilingualism Matters, is exploring new ways to build enthusiasm and confidence in linguistic skills among the region’s secondary school learners.
Based on similar work conducted in other nations, the pilot scheme is looking at the benefits to Scottish students of small group work and mentorship. In England and Wales this has been shown to have a positive impact on learners in school leading to an increase in the number of pupils continuing with languages to qualification levels and beyond.
In a 2017 report, the British Council noted that: “Language competence is far more than just another tool in the box; it is a prerequisite and a facilitator for the development of a wide spectrum of other skills and attributes.”
For the pilot, small groups of learners from secondary schools in Aberdeen (Lochside Academy) and Aberdeenshire (The Gordon Schools, Inverurie Academy, Mearns Academy and Peterhead Academy) worked intensively with Modern Languages students from the University of Aberdeen over a six-week period on topics including intercultural competence, multilingualism, and translation.
The workshops complemented existing language teaching in schools by developing a broader understanding of language learning and multilingualism, highlighting the range of skills they develop and benefits they afford.
Comments from school pupils who took part included:
“Languages are like the roots of a tree, we all have shared words that link us”. Student, The Gordon Schools, Aberdeenshire.
“I learnt that English Language borrows words from other languages and that fascinates me” Student, Lochside Academy, Aberdeen.
“Being able to speak to a wide range of people means that I will have the widest number of opportunities open to me.” Student, Inverurie Academy, Aberdeenshire.
The sessions also delivered benefits to the student mentors, promoting leadership and employability skills and providing an insight into working with young people.
Edward Welch, Carnegie Professor of French at the University of Aberdeen and convenor of UCML Scotland, said: “Our groups of young learners really appreciated getting to know their mentors during the programme and understanding more about the skills, opportunities and horizons opened up by language learning. On a national level, it is an economic imperative if Scotland is to compete in a global marketplace. Languages are needed not only for success in the global economy but to build trust, deepen international influence, and nurture relationships between different cultures.”
Fhiona Mackay, Director of SCILT added: “The success of this mentoring programme rests on the relationships that underpin it. The student mentors are relatable role models who are well-placed to inspire young people. By sharing their positive experiences, the mentors give them the opportunity to explore the intrinsic value of language learning and the scope this has to open doors to the world. It is our hope that the young people involved will be encouraged to recognise the essential role that multilingualism plays in a globally interconnected world, and in their own future, whether at home or abroad”.
The project partners now aim to expand the mentoring programme across Scotland, recognising that multilingualism bridges gaps between cultures and fosters stronger personal relationships, benefiting our diverse communities in Scotland, in collaboration with other Scottish universities and local authorities.