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Digi-Languages

Digi-Languages is an online experience which encourages its users, year 9 school pupils, to engage in questions which challenge mono-lingual and mono-cultural perceptions.

University students mentoring school pupils

Digi-Languages was launched in February 2018 as a partner of the Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) Student Mentoring Project.

Through a series of interactive resources, the six week blended learning experience encompasses both face-to-face and online mentoring, and takes pupils on a discovery of: ‘Who do you think you are and where do you come from?’ Digi-Languages is housed on the pan-Wales learning resources platform funded by Welsh Government, Hwb.

Language uptake in Wales

The Language Trends Wales 2017/18 identified the key challenges facing languages in Wales:

  • More than a third of Welsh schools now have less than 10% of Year 10 (14-15 year olds) studying a modern foreign language.
  • 44% of schools have fewer than five pupils studying a foreign language at AS level and 61% have fewer than five foreign language pupils at A level.
  • 64% of MFL departments have just one or two full-time teachers, with one third depending on non-British EU nationals for their staff.
  • Take up of modern foreign languages is continuing to fall in years 10 and 11 indicating that numbers will decline further in 2017 and 2018.

Worryingly, The Language Trends Wales Report 2018 provides further food for thought as it states that ‘participation in MFL at GCSE continues to fall across Wales as a whole’.

Digi-Languages, was devised to extend and deepen the proven positive impact of mentoring across Wales as part of the Student Mentoring Project.

By harnessing the power of digital technology, Digi-Languages aims to reach schools in more rural areas of Wales which potentially suffer from higher levels of socio-economic deprivation.

Claire Gorrara

The design and development principles behind Digi-Languages were focused on generating enthusiasm and motivation for language learning. We believe within the right policy framework Digi-Languages can serve as a model to be rolled out in other regions across the UK, as well as more broadly with partners in the EU’.

Claire Gorrara, Professor of French Studies

Key Findings

Uptake

External evaluation concluded that Digi-Languages had substantially improved uptake for modern languages at GCSE. 43% of learners who undertook Digi-Languages chose to take a modern language GCSE compared to the national average of 18.5% in Wales in 2017.

This represented a conversion rate of 26-28% of those who, in a pre-mentoring survey, said that they were undecided or would not choose a language at GCSE.

Attitudes

The evaluation also found that over half (58%) of learners said that Digi-Languages had changed the way they think about languages and their futures, and a further third of users thought that perhaps it had altered their attitudes towards language learning.

One learner commented, for example, ‘I’m starting to realize the significance of what learning another language can do for you’.

The Experience

Overall, pupils enjoyed the experience, with nine out of ten pupils rating their experience as ‘Excellent’ (49%) or ‘Good’ (43%). The quality of the online learning experience was praised by teachers, mentors and mentees alike.

Learners appreciated using a responsive platform that worked on a range of digital devices and made use of high quality, relevant images as visual stimulus, with accompanying text to aid learning.

Challenges

The challenges faced by the project were primarily the limitations of Hwb as a digital learning platform. In a policy context where digital literacy is presented as a priority area, it was surprising to find that many schools in Wales did not use Hwb and that there was limited IT support for setting up Digi-Languages in the school.

This created logistical problems for some learners. Another technical challenge was the communication facility which was carried out via email through Office 365.

Mentors felt that this did not encourage a full interaction from mentees and mentees felt frustrated by the lag in response. Given that the young learner-user is accustomed to quick response chat platforms through social media, this was clearly an area for improvement.

Targeted interventions

With each learner spending approximately 6 hours with Digi-Languages over the 6-week period, this project proves that short, targeted interventions can have a significant impact on perceptions of language learning.

Our impact

The establishment of a rapport between school mentees and University mentors helped induct mentees into different ways of seeing themselves and their futures as learners of multiple languages, modelling themselves on their University ‘friend’ and near peer language learner.

Recommendations

Digi-Languages has capacity to be rolled out to more language learners in schools in Wales providing a bespoke platform is invested in. The benefits of the project need not only be limited to Wales.

Digi-Languages is a flexible model which could be adapted and ‘regionalized’ to suit the specific requirements of different communities in the UK and abroad, with many countries tackling complex language ecologies and inequalities in schools.

With universities putting increasing emphasis on civic mission and community engagement, Digi-Languages offers a way for universities to bridge the gap with the secondary education sector in a mutually beneficial mode, whilst utilising their most authentic resource: their students.


Meet our experts

Claire Gorrara

Professor Claire Gorrara

Professor of French Studies

Email:
gorrara@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44 (0)29 2087 4955
Lucy Jenkins

Lucy Jenkins

National Coordinator MFL Student Mentoring Project

Email:
jenkinsl27@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44 (0)29 2087 6630
Neil Mosley

Neil Mosley

Digital Learning Designer, Centre for Education Support and Innovation

Email:
mosleyn@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
44 (0)29 2087 9225