The research was being conducted in the context of an unprecedented crisis in language learning in UK schools, which is in turn undermining the health of Modern Languages departments in universities. The crisis has many causes, but the bigger picture is globalisation and the gradual rise of English. Native English speakers can now travel anywhere in the world and rely on getting by fairly comfortably with the global lingua franca in the main tourist centres. And the internet gives us the illusion that the world now speaks English. So the most obvious incentive for learning another language has disappeared over the last few decades.
Meanwhile – and somewhat paradoxically – school syllabuses for Modern Foreign Languages have focused more and more exclusively on the practical language skills, excluding those dimensions of language learning that go beyond their functional use.
Our research proceeded from the premise that there is more to languages than their practical benefits for communicative transactions. This is not just ‘added’ value. Languages are our key medium for self-expression, and as such they are at the heart of individual and collective cultural identity. That gives them immense creative potential which is fundamental to our lives as human beings and an invaluable resource in its own right, while also being inextricably connected with practical use.
Our research programme was designed to develop a new paradigm for Modern Languages that is predicated on the intrinsic connection between multilingualism and creativity. This has the potential for giving learners confidence in their innate ability as linguists, and it makes language learning lastingly rewarding. It also holds the key to establishing a common identity for the subject of Modern Languages across educational sectors.