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Academic internationally recognised for her work promoting multilingualism

26 May 2023

Mid shot woman looks into camera
Professor Claire Gorrara collected the prestigious Chevalier dans l’Ordre National du Mérite

A Cardiff University academic has been recognised by the French Government for her work promoting French language, culture and multilingualism in Wales and the UK.

Professor Claire Gorrara collected the prestigious Chevalier dans l’Ordre National du Mérite at a ceremony at the French Institute in London on 19 May.

Currently Cardiff University’s Dean for Research and Innovation for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Gorrara has led on the development and implementation of the Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) Mentoring project. This project aims to increase the uptake of modern languages in secondary schools in the UK and beyond. As well as being a strong advocate for the benefits of multilingualism, Professor Gorrara’s other academic research explores narratives and memories of the Second World War in France and Britain.

Professor Gorrara, based in the University’s School of Modern Languages, said: “It is an absolute honour to collect this award. I have a lifelong love of France, ever since my year abroad during my undergraduate degree teaching English in a secondary school in Normandy. I made friends for life during that year and have since sought to nurture that love of French and indeed all languages in my students ever since.

“My collaborative work supporting multilingualism in schools in Wales and England is born of the conviction that languages open doors to other worlds, enabling younger learners to appreciate their own and other cultures with greater critical awareness and appreciation."

Working in Wales and supporting multilingualism in Welsh schools has been a privilege for me. The project has allowed me to see how learning languages can inspire young people to connect more fully with their place and identity. It all began for me with learning French at school aged 11 - so it is amazing to now be recognised for my language work by the French Government.

Professor Claire Gorrara

Head of the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University, Professor David Clarke said: “Claire is a champion for Modern Foreign Languages in Wales and beyond. Her commitment to creating opportunities for learners and to supporting multilingualism is an example to us all, and it is excellent to see that she has been rewarded with this prestigious honour.”

Two women stand on a stage  with flags and books in the background.
Professor Claire Gorrara with French Ambassador to the UK Madame Hélène Duchêne.

The MFL Mentoring project began in 2015 as part of a wider programme, Global Futures, developed by the Welsh Government to increase the number of young learners taking languages in Wales. Since then, and funded by the Welsh Government, the project has worked with 152 secondary schools in Wales and approximately 20,000 learners have engaged with the project.

Undergraduate and postgraduate student mentors work with pupils, aged 12-14, who are about to make their choices about which subjects to continue to GCSE examinations at aged 16. The project supports pupils to explore the benefits of speaking another language and challenges misconceptions. In doing so, it is hoped university mentors can inspire school mentees to see the many possibilities offered by a love of languages as well as raise aspirations to go to university.

On average, 35-40% of pupils who are mentored indicate that they will choose a modern language for GCSE examinations. This is triple the national average in Wales, where currently only 12.7% of pupils elect to study a modern language for GCSE examination.

The project has expanded from four university partners in 2015 to 10 university partners in 2023. They cover the whole of Wales: Cardiff Metropolitan University, University of South Wales, the University of Wales Trinity St David, Swansea University, Wrexham Glyndwr University, Aberystwyth University, Bangor University, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and a small cohort project with the Linguistics Department at the University of Oxford.

The project also partners with Reaching Wider, a widening participation initiative to support learners from more disadvantaged areas as part of its core mission to support students from all backgrounds to achieve.

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