Arts and Humanities Research Council
About the Project
The Language Awareness for Key Stage 3 project is a collaboration between Ulster University and St Patrick’s Academy to create a set of innovative teaching resources for post-primary pupils.
The benefits of learning a second language are numerous and extremely well-documented. They range from cognitive benefits that relate to memory and mental agility, to economic benefits such as access to foreign markets, to societal benefits, a second language enhancing one's ability to see the world from another point of view. Nevertheless, modern language teaching in the UK in general and Northern Ireland (NI) in particular is in a deep crisis.
The British Council's 2019 Language Trends report reveals a number of bleak trends for the region, in light of the fact that in NI, unlike the rest of the UK, there is no compulsory modern languages teaching in primary schools. In post-primary education there is a drop of modern languages A-levels, although school officials would welcome action to improve status and teaching of languages. One factor cited in this decline is the perceived difficulty of language subjects.
Some of this difficulty may relate to the absence of linguistically informed teaching methods; as Bauckham (2019) observes, even seemingly simple tasks such as introducing oneself can involve complex grammatical structures easily misunderstood by pupils, leading to potential difficulties at later stages. Conversely, where linguistically informed methods have been used in language teaching, there is evidence to show that this has had a significant effect on performance.
Myhill et al. (2018) found that enhancing pupils’ awareness of grammatical concepts significantly improved their writing skills in their native English. Likewise, Falk et al. (2015) found that learners who had a higher degree of linguistic awareness in their first language performed better when learning a new language.
Our aim is to address this crisis by producing a complete set of online and print resources that can be used by secondary schools across the UK, which will provide a language awareness module for pupils at Key Stage 3 (KS3). These resources are intended to fulfil the following objectives:
- To provide core grammatical concepts that will support foreign language learning and English literacy, by helping pupils to recognise similarities among languages while understanding the reasons for their differences,
- To share insights that have been long established within the field of linguistics but whose potential benefits for language learners often remain unexploited,
- To increase pupils’ engagement with modern language learning and help to reduce the perceived difficulty of these subjects.
We are very fortunate in being able to pilot these teaching materials with the help of our partner school, St Patrick’s Academy. St Patrick’s is a large voluntary grammar school located in Dungannon, with a diverse body of pupils including native speakers of languages such as Polish, Lithuanian, Portuguese, and Mandarin Chinese. Our resources will be developed in consultation with teachers from the school, through a multi-stage process:
- Initial consultation with the school (completed)
- Provision of first tranche of resources
- Revision of resources based on feedback
- Provision of next tranche of resources
- Ongoing revision and production of resources
- Dissemination of finalised resources
The teaching resources created in this way will make use of well-established tools from the field of linguistics, such as comparative and historical analysis, which can provide empirical explanations for cross-linguistic differences that might otherwise seem arbitrary and puzzling.
The resources will provide concrete data by using examples from frequently taught modern languages (e.g. French, Spanish, German and Irish), classical and medieval languages (Latin, Ancient Greek, Old English), and heritage languages that are frequently spoken in NI.
Dissemination and outreach
Once our resources have been updated to reflect the feedback from the pilot, they will be made available through a wide range of channels.
- Creation of a website to disseminate the resources freely to the widest possible audience
- Promotion to other post-primary schools in Northern Ireland through collaboration with agencies such as CCEA.
- Marking the launch of the resources with a workshop to provide training and information on our resources and language awareness in general.