February 16, 2018, by Rupert Knight

Realising the wider purpose of teaching Modern Languages through integrative approaches

Language learning is now compulsory in primary schools in England. Although the move may initially have appeared as a bold one in 2014, when compared to earlier practice, much work developing capacity in primary schools preceded the change in policy. And much work continues to ensure the delivery of languages is maximised for the benefit of young learners.

In this blog, Ruth Koro explores the importance of early language learning in developing intercultural awareness, and suggests an integrative approach to best deliver this.

Many schools are benefitting from working in partnership with secondary teachers, either through existing partnerships with feeder schools, collaborative planning within trusts, or as part of the day-to-day practice in all-through schools. However, while collaborations exist, and while they should be explored further to ensure that language learning is seamless between primary and secondary schools, many teachers will be solely responsible for the planning and delivery of Modern Languageswithin their school.

Like many other subjects on the primary curriculum, making room for languages on a busy timetable, as well as ensuring that staff can deliver the content confidently, can prove challenging. But, whichever model your school has adopted, and no matter the constraints you may well be faced with, it is worthwhile keeping at the forefront of your thought two important questions:

  1. Who are we teaching languages to?

  2. Why does learning a second language matter in this day and age?


Who are we teaching languages to?

First and foremost, it is essential for all practitioners, regardless of phase or subject, to remember that our students come to us with a rich cultural – and linguistic – capital. This is important because, just as long as we do not accept a deficit discourse about our students who may be bilingual or multilingual, there is a wealth of experience in our classrooms, with students who could very well contribute to the learning of their peers – if not in the language being taught, at the very least in the skills required in the acquisition of a language. Drawing on this will serve to make the learning relevant and meaningful, to value diversity and to promote inclusion and community cohesion in schools.

The age factor is also an important one where languages are concerned. Although there is some debate about where the critical age for second language acquisition lies, there is much to be said for primary learners’ inquisitiveness and enthusiasm, both highly desirable attributes when learning other languages. Furthermore, it is also worth remembering that, despite Modern Languages being one of the Ebacc subjects in secondary schools, it is not as such a compulsory national curriculum subject after the age of 14 (although all pupils in maintained schools have a statutory entitlement to be able to study the subject). In addition, it is also worth remembering that, in this country, the national curriculum is not compulsory for all types of schools – (although all schools are required to teach a ‘balanced and broadly based curriculum’).Therefore, the teaching of Modern Languages in primary schools has a vital role to play in ensuring the provision of the opportunity that language learning represents for students.


Why does learning a second language matter in this day and age?

According to the National curriculum KS2 Languages programmes of study, studying languages ‘is a liberation from insularity and provides an opening to other cultures. A high-quality languages education should foster pupils’ curiosity and deepen their understanding of the world

Developing pupils’ global citizenship is therefore paramount – and the above statement, it is hoped, merely confirmation of what many teachers will already know and believe. But the teaching of Modern Languages on its own, while contributing (like many other subjects) to the development of global citizenship, requires some careful planning.

The desire to develop our students into future global citizens requires teachers to develop their Intercultural Understanding (ICU). While many definitions exist, I would define ICU as ‘the willingness and ability to change one’s viewpoint in order to discover and understand otherness’.

In order to achieve this, ICU should be at the heart of the planning process, and rather than an add-on, should in effect be seen as one of the key desired outcomes when teaching Modern Languages.


So how do we go about teaching ICU?

Byram (2010) proposes that Contents and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is the best approach to developing students’ ICU, within the usual constraints of the curriculum.

CLIL involves the teaching of other subject content through the medium of a foreign language (Coyle, Hood and Marsh, 2010).  Coyle (1999) developed the ‘4 Cs Framework’ – combining the following as a framework to integrate learning and language learning:





CLIL has be found to offer many benefits: improving students’ motivation, developing their cognitive skills, as well as contributing to theirsubject content and language understanding – all the while developing their intercultural competence.

There are many ways to link other subjects with languages, and it may be a more achievable feat than for colleagues in secondary settings. No matter the subject content, a little creative thinking will go a long way. For instance, exploring aspects of life in a different historical period, while teaching the vocabulary of colours and the concept of gender agreement in languages

investigating the geography of different countries where the language is spoken, while understanding the formation of simple verbs in the present tense

teaching the use of the correct article while presenting technological inventions from the countries speaking the language

A key factor is the notion that, as opposed to other integrative models, when planning within a CLIL framework, both the subject content and the language content have parity. But beyond this, be as creative as you wish, and your students will reap the rewards.

If you would like to find out more, you may find the following useful:



Byram, M. (2010) Linguistic and cultural and citizenship for bildung education. The Modern Language Journal, 94(2): pp. 317-321

Coyle, D. (1999) Teacher education for multilingual education: a CLIL teacher training curriculum. In Multilingual Challenge conference held in Brussels (Thematic Network Project in the Area of Languages–Sub project 6: Language Teacher Training and Bilingual Education), pp. 70-9.

Coyle, D., Hood, P., & Marsh, D. (2010) Content and language integrated learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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