Rethinking the UK languages curriculum: arguments for the inclusion of linguistics

Michelle Sheehan, Alice Corr, Anna Havinga, Jonathan Kasstan, Norma Schifano

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This paper argues for a place for linguistics within the UK Modern Languages curriculum as part of a more pluralistic approach to languages study. Based on an intervention involving over 300 A-level students of French, German and Spanish, we demonstrate: (i) that it is feasible and appropriate to include linguistics topics on the A-level Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) curriculum; (ii) that many of these topics are inherently interesting for A-level language students; and (iii) that pupils report increased confidence in their language skills after having been exposed to a short linguistics course (4 hours). In light of our further finding that there is already considerable untapped scope for linguistics within the current formal framework of the A-level MFL qualification, we recommend that linguistics topics should be included in MFL A-levels as a matter of priority. This is the case not least because linguistics has the potential to attract new pupils to the study of MFL, whilst also providing a crucial bridge between language skills and cultural content, which are so often kept apart in existing MFL curricula. Lastly, we argue that the introduction of linguistics into languages teaching raises awareness of the harmfulness of deeply entrenched prescriptive and standard-language-ideological beliefs in schools, which will lead to a more inclusive discipline.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Number of pages24
JournalModern Languages Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2021


  • curriculum design
  • pedagogical linguistics
  • modern languages
  • MFL
  • education policy
  • descriptivism
  • prescriptivism
  • student attitudes


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