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‘Previously nobody would have been interested in Arabic. But now we have hundreds and hundreds of Syrian refugees and people working with them. So that sort of guides me when thinking of offering a language.’ (FE/college subject leader)

Multilingualism holds significant importance in the United Kingdom, impacting a wide spectrum of people. It’s not just about being able to speak more than one language; it’s also about mutual understanding, diversity, unity and making the UK’s future bright. So, let’s kick languages provision in further education (FE) into high gear, listen closely to what our FE champions have to say, and start shaking things up!

In the UK, FE offers a unique educational opportunity. It serves as the bridge between secondary school and higher education (universities), which includes various institutions such as FE colleges. These colleges play a pivotal role in providing a diverse range of educational pathways. Students can pursue vocational qualifications, apprenticeship programmes, GCSEs and A-levels, gain access to higher education courses, and adult education classes.

For far too long, language provision research in the UK has been primarily centred on secondary and higher education. This has led our landmark study on languages provision in UK further education to reveal a notable gap – a lack of research engagement with learners, lecturers and leaders concerning their perceptions and experiences of learning and teaching languages in FE (Collen et al., 2023). In this blog post, I hope to take you on a captivating journey. Together with my colleagues, I’ve delved deep into the findings of our extensive study in which we examine the landscape of languages provision in UK further education over the past two decades. Our study found that the four major languages – French, Spanish, German and Italian – still hold the dominant position in the FE setting. In addition to the big four languages, students also have opportunities to learn other languages, including British Sign Language, Japanese, Mandarin and Arabic. Importantly, our study has also shed light on the reasons for learning languages at the FE setting. Students have expressed that FE offers them a pathway to build upon their past language education, bolsters their employability, aligns with university expectations, lets them explore personal interests, and opens doors to exciting international experiences.

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