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Charles Burdett, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research, discusses the recent symposium held on 25 February 2022 and issues that the event raised.

The question at the heart of the workshop on 25 February 2022 (Future Directions in Modern Languages) that was organised by the IMLR together with AULC, the UCML, and Bilingualism Matters was how the disciplinary area, broadly defined as Modern Languages, can develop to ensure its relevance and purpose. The importance of thinking about future challenges was foregrounded at the beginning of the event with the presentation of the work of the AHRC Future of Language Research Fellows. This was followed by presentations from researchers of Bilingualism Matters on how thinking concerning ‘community’ languages can advance decolonising approaches to the study of language and culture. The latter part of the day focussed on how the work of the four OWRI projects can be integrated within the subject area and inform developments more generally.

Many questions concerning the future shape of the disciplinary area were raised by the conference and all of these questions require a great deal of further strategic thought and engagement. One can, nevertheless, point easily to three issues that were present in all discussions. The first is how we can successfully move beyond a distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘community’ languages. The stratification of language learning is increasingly difficult to justify and serves no one’s interests. It might well, therefore, be a good idea to dispense with the adjective ‘modern’ and to seek to construct a broad, but nevertheless definable, subject area that has different emphases and inflections, but which is connected by the integrated study of language, culture, and society; that is grounded in the multilingual and multicultural realities that we all inhabit; and in which there is a strong emphasis on cultural and linguistic mobility.

The second issue that all speakers addressed was the necessity of intense, joined-up, and inclusive thinking concerning the teaching of languages and cultures. If we think about language teaching as an important element in the way in which we expand the nature of our contact with societies around the world, then it is clearly important that what is taught in schools is strongly connected with the subject area as it is understood and practiced in Higher Education. Innovative approaches to teaching, to the interface with creative practice, and to inclusivity need to be shared across the education sector as a whole.

The third issue concerns the need to demonstrate the relevance and applicability of the analytical frameworks that are used within the disciplinary field. All of the papers of the conference showed the powerful impacts that can be made by the subject area and how it can engage in cross-disciplinary research of crucial importance. The engagement of teams of researchers in high-profile funding initiatives such as OWRI leads to innovation in teaching practice and to changes in public perception.

The conference, with short interventions focussing on issues of strategic significance to everyone within the sector, provides an excellent model for future events. The recording of the event is available here:


Charles Burdett, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research