IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


IOE director chairs discussion about the future of modern language teaching

25 February 2022

Professor Li Wei, Director of IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, has chaired a discussion focusing on the importance of community languages in teaching ‘modern’ languages.

Two school children with teacher. Image: Phil Meech for UCL Institute of Education

The discussion was part of a conference exploring future directions in modern languages and was hosted by the Institute of Modern Languages Research and the School of Advanced Study at the University of London. The event also marked International Mother Language Day (21 February), which was created by UNESCO to celebrate multilingualism and linguistic and cultural diversity.

The session, led by Bilingualism Matters London of which Professor Li Wei is a Co-Director, explored how embracing multilingualism can have a transformative impact on educators, scholars, and language learners by helping everyone involved in language learning to expand their linguistic skills and embrace the complexity and fluidity of language.

In particular, the panellists discussed how policies and practices lead to the dominance of colonial languages and their standardisation. They also looked at how language teaching can be democratised by bridging the gap between the mainstream and complementary school sectors and recognising the problematic labels that categorise different people’s languages as ‘modern’ or ‘foreign’.

Joining the session as speakers were Dr Petros Karatsareas (BML Co-Director, University of Westminster), Dr Kathleen McCarthy (Queen Mary University of London), and Joanna McPake (University of Strathclyde).

In his introduction of the penal discussion, Professor Li Wei said, “All minority languages in the UK are majority languages somewhere else in the world, and many of the so-called ‘community’ languages of ethnic minority communities in this country are major national and international languages of the world. We need to change and broaden our perspectives when it comes to language education in Britain.”