Language Made Fun

The Language Made Fun programme


Partners and initiatives generating impact:

In 2013 Ulster Centre on Multilingualism (UCoM) collaborated with Barnardo’s NI to establish this programme of linguistic support called Language Made Fun (LMF) . The programme is designed to support the language needs of multilingual migrant children in Northern Ireland (Newcomers) whilst promoting the maintenance of their home language. Since 2013, LMF has been funded by a variety of sources (Barnardo’s NI, Garfield Weston Trust and, currently, through the Big Lottery Fund funded ‘Family Learning Integration Hub’ due to run until 2021) with the possibility of being further renewed further for two years. In 2017, UCoM and Barnardo’s are piloting Language Together (a sister programme to LMF) where play-based language assistance is done at a group setting, and not individually as in LMF.

The programme itself is pioneering in the UK both in concept and execution, and it involves the following stages:

  • Pairing Ulster Linguistics students/Barnardo’s volunteers with Newcomer pupils from Fane Street and Holy Rosary Primary Schools;
  • Engaging in a period of informal observation of the children through play, where sessions are recorded;
  • Formally assessing the language of Newcomers through administering parts of CELF-IV (Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals) and BPVS (British Picture Vocabulary Test);
  • Analysing individual language of the Newcomers based on both informal and formal language assessments;
  • Designing bespoke language interventions to address the linguistic issues detected;
  • Performing post-intervention evaluation of language of Newcomers;
  • Gathering qualitative data from teachers on the effect of the programme.

Early research findings have been published in a report and they show that a relatively small investment in providing individual linguistic assessment and support for these children can have positive outcomes for language, communication and overall confidence of the pupils.

LMF has been receiving funding since 2013 and has guaranteed funding until 2021:

  • Externally both from the Big Lottery Fund and Barnardo’s NI itself (£28,145) (Big Lottery Fund could be renewed for two more years after beyond 2021);
  • Internally, LMF has received funding from Ulster University Higher Education Innovation Fund the Garfield Weston Trust (£10,500).

Impact generated to date:

LMF has so far assisted more that 50 Newcomer pupils and their families in Northern Ireland, including children that have never been to school before. The first languages of the children range from Sudanese and Syrian Arabic, Romani and Hungarian, to Polish, Mandarin Chinese, Mexican Spanish and Farsi. Research has shown that Newcomer pupils are at risk of underachievement if not sufficiently supported with their second language (eg. Paradis 2008 among many others), hence a programme like LMF is absolutely crucial at making sure this is not the case. Feedback from Newcomers’ teachers shows that LMF is instrumental in changing pupils’ attitudes towards learning: “R. is taking more interest in learning this term and engaging with me [teacher] and the classroom assistant more - he is wanting to communicate in English” and “LMF has been beneficial to A, helping to build her confidence”.

UCoM has undertaken the following activities:

  • 5 November 2014, first KESS seminar of the year at Stormont: Language Made Fun: Supporting disadvantaged children in their English language development.
  • 11 March 2015, public launch event for the Language Made Fun report. The event, held at Ulster University’s Belfast campus, was attended by civil servants, member of various public services, head masters, school-teachers, SLTs and members of various language interest groups.
  • November 2015, report on Language provision in Northern Ireland and benefits of Multilingualism for Dale Heaney, Head of Curriculum development, Department of Education .

Regarding LMF, Joanna Tarach, current manager of Children’s services in Barnardo’s NI has remarked “The Language made Fun collaboration has gone from strength to strength. In the first year we began with 7 UU students (and) [t]his year we have had 10 students complete their induction and work one-to-one with newcomer pupils from 2 schools to improve their English. They got to know their pupils who were from Romania, Hungary, Syria and Sudan. The students gave us wonderful feedback to say how they saw a vast improvement in the ability of a child who was faltering with a few words of English and by the end of the 16 weeks, was able to form coherent full sentences. It was remarked on how the individual play-based sessions were not like school and resulted in a huge increase in the child’s confidence.