Why do schools teach French and German, and not Arabic or Somali?

EEarlier this year, Tory MP Kemi Badenoch said the Modern Foreign Languages ​​(MFL) curriculum currently being taught in schools did not need to be decolonised. This is despite the fact that Badenoch has no direct experience of studying at a UK secondary school, or teaching at one.

As a 24-year-old French and Spanish teacher who teaches at a secondary school in the heart of a multicultural working-class community in West London, I disagree. The current Eurocentric MFL curriculum in no way reflects my students or me, and is irrelevant to many of us.

Therefore, it is essential that we immediately begin to decolonize the MFL program. It should be more representative of the diverse communities in which many of us teach and, in turn, encourage students to pursue language studies.

It’s no surprise that MFL adoption has been on a steady decline for a number of years. As the curricula for Key Stages 3 and 4 focus heavily on grammar and omit any cultural context, the common student perception that language learning is not only difficult but also disconnected from reality continues to prevail.

Whatever the subject taught, a cultural context is necessary for teaching and learning to occur. It is criminal that in languages, a matter so rich in culture, this context is often neglected. When I reflect on my own experience learning French and Spanish in high school, I remember the emphasis on grammar, verb conjugations, and the art of speaking with Spanish accents. and continental French.

It’s safe to say that my love of French and Spanish doesn’t come from my high school curriculum, but rather from music – specifically my mother’s. Planet Rap and Buena Vista Social Club CD. During my first year of teaching, I had the ambition to be the “cool teacher”, to share this love of European music with my students, but the rose-tinted glasses quickly fell because the pressure of marking delays and falling data unfortunately left little room. for everything that is not part of the defined program.

Unfortunately, class and race also play a part in the low use of languages ​​at GCSE and A level. MFL is an inherently colonial and elitist subject; the reason why French, Spanish and German are the languages ​​taught in schools is a result of these countries gaining “world power” status through their expansive empires.

In the education system, we unfortunately hold these languages ​​in higher regard than the “community languages” that many of our EAL (English as an Additional Language) and ESL (English as a Second Language) students speak at home.

This lower use was evidenced in the Language Trends Survey which highlighted the worrying correlation that schools with a lower proportion of students studying a language after KS3 also had the highest number of language learners. ‘pupils who receive the pupil bonus, free school meals, a lower pass level 8 result or have EAL. Class and race are known to contribute to each of these categories, as a direct result of the various forms of racism and classism that exist within British society.

Working-class students are more likely than their middle-class counterparts to belong to each group and are more likely to be electively withdrawn from languages ​​before reaching their GCSEs. A similar remark can be made about the breed. For example, research shows that racial discrimination in the form of teacher bias has a direct effect on Level 8 scores. lowest at Level 8 of all groups (with the exception of students from Traveler communities – another ethnic group which faces high rates of discrimination).

Surprisingly, as is the case in France, the secondary MFL research community has opted for a ‘colorblind’ approach to studying trends in language teaching in Britain, which has allowed racialized pupils to be systematically discriminated against.

This may be why black students are often absent from A-level and university language classes, and why UCAS has reported that there is a disproportionately low number of black language teachers throughout. the country.

I strongly believe that decolonizing the MFL curriculum is a major step in solving the problems of my subject. I realize that the statement “decolonize the curriculum” may frighten some people, like Kemi Badenoch, as they imagine teachers rehashing white privilege and guilt.

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In reality, the phrase means participating in the ongoing process of recognizing and critically examining the influence of colonial legacies on our education system. Questioning is an essential tool for decolonizing the curriculum because it allows us to observe the different factors that have come to influence it.

We must first ask ourselves why these languages ​​are taught, by looking at the violent histories of linguistic colonization. In addition, we need to integrate culture into our teaching, as this will help us identify the racist and colonial aspects of our subject. By teaching the history of European empires and, more importantly, the impact they had on the rest of the world, we are able to abandon our focus on Eurocentric education.

This will help us organize open conversations with our students about the underlying power dynamics of the Spanish-speaking, French-speaking, and German-speaking worlds, which will allow them to gain a broader cultural understanding of MFL.

Finally, we need to change the often elitist vocabulary used in lessons – few of the students I teach have gone horse riding, skiing or windsurfing! Instead, we need to replace it with more inclusive language that students can use to accurately describe themselves, such as “I wear a hijab” or “I have braids.” It is through this process of decolonization that we can make MFL accessible to all children – not just the elite.

Nki Osamo-Wright is a teacher of modern foreign languages ​​in west London

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