Joseph Ford and Charles Burdett summarise the discussions at the 2022 AMLUK symposium held on 13 May 2022.
Promoting inclusivity is at the centre of the work of the IMLR. Together with the Institute of English Studies and the Institute of Classical Studies, it has recently appointed four fellows to help with the development of its programme of activities around Inclusion, Participation, and Engagement in research. The focus of the 2022 AMLUK symposium was to discuss how associations, schools, and university departments are approaching questions regarding inclusivity as it relates to the subject area of languages, cultures, and societies.
The first session centred on the work that subject associations are doing. Michael Tsang (Birkbeck) spoke about the challenges faced by East Asian Studies when it comes to decolonising initiatives. With curricula oriented towards aligning East Asian languages with geopolitical concerns specific to the region, he emphasised the need to balance the national and the regional with the global, for instance by identifying common and contrasting themes and imperatives in cultural production across global contexts. He spoke also of the need for East Asian Studies to examine its problematic disciplinary past and consider how broader structures, such as the REF, might restrict the kinds of research being done in this area. Zhu Hua (UCL) focused on the work of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL) to develop a statement on equality, diversity, and inclusion. She conveyed how linguists are uniquely placed to bring a self-reflexive focus to terminologies deployed in our research and teaching. Developing a statement has been an opportunity to explore, question, and create space for alternative perspectives, but also to come up with concrete advice for colleagues across the disciplinary area, such as on the removal of problematic terms like ‘native speaker’ from job adverts and the provision of sign language interpreting at conferences. Claire Ross (Reading) and Iman Nick (Germanic Society for Forensic Linguistics) spoke about the work they have done over the past year to survey the field of German Studies as part of the EDI working group of the Association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland (AGS) and the Women in German Studies (WIGs) collective. Ross and Nick highlighted the ongoing work in these subject associations to grow inclusivity initiatives and reflected on the need for empirical surveys of the make-up and views of membership as a first step to bring about meaningful change.
The second session focused on inclusion work happening in schools, carried out by teachers and academics attempting to bridge the gap between university and school-based pedagogies, curricula, and recruitment strategies. Lisa Panford (St Mary’s University) spoke as co-chair of the Association for Language Learning (ALL) special interest group, ‘Decolonise Secondary MFL’. She reflected on the ongoing work of the group, particularly the collaboration with the publisher Pearson to create more inclusive resources as part of the ‘Amplifying Marginalised Voices Through Languages’ initiative available on Pearson’s website. Charlotte Ryland (Oxford) and Stacie Allan (Stephen Spender Trust) talked about the Trust’s work in running translation exchange programmes in UK secondary schools as a means of increasing languages take up at universities. They discussed how their work is premised on the fact that the languages curriculum has not capitalised on UK schools having become more and more multilingual and that languages can be more inclusive if they privilege culture and creativity over communication and function. Gitanjali Patel (Shadow Heroes/Birmingham) spoke about the work of Shadow Heroes, an organisation whose translation workshops challenge the Eurocentrism and monolingualism of language teaching in UK schools. She stressed how translation can be a tool to include the perspectives of multilingual students in the classroom but is crucially also a means of engaging critically with the hegemony of a language classroom that neglects non-European languages and ways of knowing. Lucy Jenkins (Cardiff University) reflected on the work of the MFL Mentoring project in Wales, which has succeeded in increasing uptake of languages at university by employing undergraduates to work with 11–14-year-olds unsure about whether they will take a GCSE in languages. The project has been trialled in the UK and the hope is that mentoring schemes will be expanded in years to come.
The final session of the day was an opportunity to hear about the work happening in universities and to reflect on a series of strategic interventions that could be made across the disciplinary field. Emanuelle Santos (Birmingham) spoke about the ‘Birmingham method for MLs’, which is working to align language teaching with core content modules, challenging traditional ways of language learning and helping to reconceptualise what language is altogether. She described how bringing together language teachers with researchers teaching cultural modules serves to break down the arbitrary and often discriminatory division of labour between language teachers and researchers whose work has traditionally been valued more within university structures. A key point here was that the work of inclusion must not simply mean introducing reform within pre-existing discriminatory and uneven structures. Giuliana Borea (Newcastle) brought the day’s presentations to a close by talking about decolonising initiatives in the School of Modern Languages at Newcastle University, and particularly about the need to think beyond the recent spate of activity in decolonising the university and to truly embed the work of self-reflection among all members of the department. Examples of this work include an effort to work in a translingual and transnational way across language areas and to include vernacular languages as a fundamental part of our teaching.
In the final discussion, attendees and presenters reflected on questions raised throughout the day, upon currently occurring subject-wide consultative exercises, including subject benchmarking, the forthcoming report from the AHRC Future of Language Research fellows, and the future investment of the AHRC in languages research, and upon issues such as the term ‘Modern Languages’ and the role of the IMLR as a space in which to draw together the work on decolonisation and inclusivity going on across UK education in languages and cultures. Two core actions points emerging from the conversation were (a) the ongoing necessity of breaking down the barriers between language and content teaching and (b) the need to think more deeply about questions relating to class and languages and the ways class intersects with all the issues discussed throughout the day.
Dr Joseph Ford, Lecturer in French Studies, IMLR; and Professor Charles Burdett, Director IMLR