Linguistics in Foreign-Language degrees

The UK faces a dramatic crisis in FL teaching in schools, with a double recruitment problem: in recruiting A-level students, and in recruiting teachers. In this context, it is imperative that FL departments in our universities should do whatever they can to encourage good graduates to consider teaching as a career. Possible actions are:

  • to ensure that undergraduates study the target language itself so that they understand its structure well enough to explain it to pupils. (At present, FL have a reputation at school for being difficult, which suggests a lack of clear teaching.)
  • to include optional courses on applied linguistics so as to make undergraduates aware of the intellectual challenges and interest of language teaching.

What are our FL departments doing to improve the flow of undergraduates into teaching?

I tried to answer this question in July 2016 by searching the websites of all the French departments in the 24 Russell Group universities in search of degree components on:

  • the linguistics of the language itself (including history and dialectology as well as pronunciation, grammar and so on, but not components which appeared to be aimed at language skills.
  • applied linguistics.

The results are reported in a spreadsheet  (which includes the urls for the universities and departments concerned to help in future surveys).

The headline findings (for the 22 universities that offer language degrees – LSE and Imperial don’t) are these:

  • only 14 clearly offer linguistics components; a further one may do so.
  • only two (Newcastle and Southampton) offer components on applied linguistics.

These figures raise serious questions about the role of our French departments in the UK’s FL crisis: are they part of the solution, or part of the problem?

The same exercise should be applied to the other main foreign languages, German and Spanish.


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