Mind the gap: seven ways in which learning a language can diminish the difference for disadvantaged learners

    Published: 06 November 2017

    ‘This year’s survey highlights serious social inequality in access to language learning.’  

    Language Trends 2016/17, Survey Report by Teresa Tinsley and Kathryn Board


    Against the backdrop of some worrying findings in this year’s Language Trends survey, the theme of our annual Primary Leaders of Languages conference on Friday 1 December is ‘Languages for All’.  Teresa Tinsley, one of the survey co-authors, will be our keynote speaker delivering a session entitled Literacy, inclusion, an introduction to other cultures: findings from the Languages Trends survey.  Other highlights include Dr Arlene Foster (University of Oxford) who will present a session on Classics for All in which she will talk about the ways in which Latin and Greek can support and extend literacy skills for all language learners and British Council Ambassadors who will lead a workshop on ‘Building a culture of inclusion through eTwinning’.

    In this edition of the Herts for Learning Languages blog, guest blogger Linda A. Hardman, HfL’s Lead Adviser for Diminishing the Difference, argues the case for languages for all at KS2.

    Mind the gap


    There is a high priority under the current OFSTED framework to diminish the difference for disadvantaged learners and it could be argued that language acquisition and development is one of the most challenging areas in which to achieve this measure of equality.

    Disadvantaged pupils are broadly identified, in educational terms, as those pupils in receipt of additional government funding (The Pupil Premium).  The purpose of this funding is to enable schools to put in place strategies that “diminish the difference” between these children and their more affluent peers.  Broadly, the funding is attributed to pupils who have been in receipt of FSM at any time in the past 6 years, Children Looked After or those who have been adopted from public care, and children from service families. These pupils may also have additional complex multiple vulnerabilities that can present huge barriers to learning.

    However, all children can benefit from language learning, provided that the content offered and the methodologies employed are appropriate for their learning needs.  Pupils in poverty are not broken or damaged; human brains adapt to experiences by making changes.  Your pupils can change.  You can help them do so by understanding the specific challenges for your learners and addressing these with purposeful teaching.  As teachers we are strongly aspirational for our pupils and have the highest expectations for their outcomes.  We should remember that language learning is a socially mobilising skillset and be ambitious for all our pupils.


    Seven ways in which learning a language can diminish the difference for disadvantaged learners


    1. Broadening horizons, developing intercultural understanding

    Though opportunities for travel may be limited for some, all children are citizens of a multilingual world.  All have a right (and a responsibility) to learn about other cultures and to sample other languages.  Language and culture are so intertwined that learning a foreign language both builds cultural understanding and provides deep insights into how other people see the world.

    2. Future economic well-being

    Learning a language boosts career opportunities and is critical for the workforce of the future.  Many jobs in education, healthcare, social work, national security, translation, tourism, and international business require or favour candidates who are bilingual, resulting in more job opportunities for those who can speak a second language.



    3. Improving brain function

    Research shows that bilingualism, even partial bilingualism, can have a beneficial effect on brain development. Bilinguals are often better at tasks that require multi-tasking and attention focusing.

    4.Closing the gap

    Pupils from disadvantaged families are more likely to struggle with engagement due to a narrower vocabulary and lack of exposure to the richness of language.  Learning another language is another way for children with delayed skills development to revisit basic concepts and to learn social skills in a way that seems more interesting and challenging.




    5. Improving first language competence

    Years ago, people believed that learning a second language would confuse a child. Now, research shows that children who study a foreign language perform better in their native language than non-bilingual students.  This increased awareness of language can lead to improvements in literacy across the curriculum.

    6. Improving future brain health

    It helps prevent age-related cognitive decline. Some studies have shown that people who regularly speak a second language may be able to delay Alzheimer’s disease. The hypothesis is that by improving the executive function of the brain, bilinguals develop a “cognitive reserve” which helps delay symptoms of dementia.

    7.Building creative thinking skills

    Much has been written about how many jobs in the future will be automated, with tasks requiring ingenuity and creativity being left to humans. How then to build these creative thinking skills in children?  By learning a second language!  Learning a foreign language helps children see the world through different lenses. The ability to consider multiple viewpoints to a problem is a cornerstone of creative problem solving.

    Linda A. Hardman, Lead Adviser Diminishing the Difference

    To book on to the Primary Leaders of Languages conference in December, click here.  For further information on events, training and other services to support the delivery of languages from primary through to secondary, please contact Yvonne.Kennedy@consultant.hertsforlearning.co.uk


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