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Exclusive: ALL Director Kathy Wicksteed Talks to FE News

The Association for Language Learning (ALL) Language Conference, writes Joana Lage, Language Learning Correspondent for FE News, held this year at the University of Manchester, was an event that united teachers and practitioners from the whole language sector.

It was an enormous success and much progress was made. In an interview with Joana Lage at the conference, Kathy Wicksteed, the Director of ALL, asserted the importance of events like the Language World and gave us some insights about the actual situation for language learning in the United Kingdom.

The Turning Point

The official government advice is that 10% of the time each week should be spent in learning languages. This, in practical terms, represents only two weekly hours which is definitely not enough. At the moment in the United Kingdom, young people do not engage with languages at school as they do not realise the importance. Nevertheless, around the age of 20, people do change their attitudes. Therefore there is the need to reinforce this attitude and try to have this change at an earlier age.

Kathy Wicksteed stated that: “We should market languages more effectively, give people real reasons for studying languages and raise motivation. For example, in a Further Education school, vocational courses could be internationalised.” Furthermore, she believes that the government is sending the right message. However, like in any other area, money plays a central role, and if the initiatives are not funded, languages will continue not to be integrated. As she puts it: “There is always the risk that languages will remain a specialist area.”

The Key People

Teachers are essential in changing attitudes in the language arena, but the key people are the schools” senior leadership teams. The teaching board can have the aims and the will to improve the situation with their classes and in their school; however if these views and visions are not shared and supported by the leadership and board, not much will be done. Kathy Wicksteed commented: “They are the influential people that can actually change something.”

This year’s ALL conference had as the main theme “Working Together”. Kathy Wicksteed said that to improve the situation, it is vital to have more support; the strength lies in the number of people. The more people working together, sharing ideas and giving each other moral support, the easier it is to “fly the flag for languages”. By exchanging new approaches, discover new ideas and sharing the sheer enjoyment of languages, the system can be updated and increasingly diversified, and therefore better and more efficient.

An example would be an effort to join the forces of primary and secondary schools and even use the expertise of universities” students and lecturers to make new plans. “We are not anymore in the era of old-fashioned teaching grammar in a closed classroom. In our global world, it is only beneficial to join forces over borders, built international links. Languages are deeply tight with culture in our world and there is always an international dimension linked to all subjects”, Kathy Wicksteed said.

ALL’s Efforts

ALL is an association deeply involved in making a difference in the language learning arena and in trying to change people’s attitudes and mentalities towards the role of languages in the United Kingdom. Besides the annual Language World Conference for all the practitioners of this sector, there are also committee meetings for each language department in the ALL organization.

All over the country there are branches of ALL and local communities have their own activities, not only for young people but also for adults, providing professional support and training. Kathy Wicksteed concluded: “The language sector has still to change and evolve and the essentialness of languages has to be more reinforced but there is a lot going on. We, ALL, always try to fill in the gaps in this area.”

Joana Lage, Language Learning Correspondent

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