The ‘Linguistics in Modern Foreign Languages’ (or MFL) Project is making the case for the place of linguistics in school-based language teaching.
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Our mission

Our project is taking positive action to address the crisis in MFL uptake in schools.
We aim to enhance uptake and results in MFLs by introducing students to the study of linguistics. We envisage that this will attract more students to the study of languages and better prepare them for advanced study. Find out more in our manifesto.

Why linguistics?

“Linguistics has the potential to help students with their language skills in interesting and nuanced ways.

Grammar is not really a list of constructions to be employed; it is an ever-changing system with rules and intricate interactions, used in different ways by different speakers.

Understanding this, and how linguistic differences can encode social differences, is an essential skill for anyone wanting to use language authentically.

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Prof. Michelle Sheehan, 19 Oct 2018
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Linguistics in MFL A-Levels project

This project (2017-) makes the case for the inclusion of linguistics topics in the Key Stage 5 MFL curriculum. Current A-level syllabi make a sharp distinction between language and content (i.e. literature, film, history and culture). Linguistics is notable for its absence. This differs from many university courses in which linguistics is fundamental. Our project engages students with linguistics, deepening their interests in language, including its historical, cultural and social dimensions. We are interested not only in how stimulating and relevant the pupils find these topics, but also in what effect this exposure has on their language attitudes and their confidence levels when speaking/writing another language.
We ran a successful scoping study in 2017-2019 involving over 300 A-level pupils in French, German and Spanish. You can read about the research study and its findings in our article published in Modern Languages Open (Liverpool University Press).
In a follow-on study, linguistics materials that we co-created with experienced A-level teachers and which were designed to be integrated into current A-level syllabi, were tested in classrooms. You can read about the results in our recent article published in the British Educational Research Journal.
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“The Linguistics in MFL Project has brought benefits to both my students and my own teaching practice. I was keen to explore how study of linguistics can engage students and improve their competence in second language acquisition. Delivering the project in the summer term of year 12 also provided a valuable enrichment to studies as students began to consider university choices.

My A level students engaged positively with the course materials, enjoying the opportunity to learn about French as a language. The discussions surrounding phonetics and morphology particularly in relation to verb endings has a discernible impact on their pronunciation, deepening their understanding of the differences between written and spoken French. I have also designed linguistics starter activities to enable students to become more proficient at identifying patterns of language and build word families. “
Janette Swainston, Head of MFL
(Longsands Academy, St Neots)
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We gratefully acknowledge the support of our funders
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Impact Acceleration Award