“digital technologies have changed the way in which we engage in our research practice right across the full cycle of the research process”
(Taylor and Thornton, 2017)
Digital engagement is not new in Modern Languages education or research. Language educators have been at the forefront in digital/hybrid pedagogical research through Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and other forms of technology-enhanced language learning. In Modern Languages research, digitally mediated practice has also enjoyed a long trajectory, through for example work on databases of medieval Spanish, Catalan, Galician, and Portuguese literature which started in the 1980s but digital engagement has, until recently, tended to be connected to particular research areas (such as digital art or digital editions) or related fields (such as Translation or Linguistics) where digital technology brought tangible transformations. Digital research practice in Modern Languages has been informed by a variety of fields such as Digital Humanities and Digital Cultural Studies, with different theoretical and practical points of emphasis, but has recently seen greater alignment through initiatives such as the ‘Shape of the Discipline’ writing sprint/publication, Modern Languages Association roundtables and the Digital Modern Languages seminar series in the UK. In 2022 it is impossible to ignore the opportunities and risks posed by networked, data-driven and algorithmically filtered language practice. This has led to broader, cross-language and cross-discipline, debates around how language educators and researchers should engage with new pedagogies, methods and ecologies.
The ‘Digital Mediations’ strand on the Language Acts and Worldmaking project explored interactions and tensions between digital culture and Modern Languages research. We studied these interactions in both directions - both the role digital culture and technology play in transforming Modern Languages research and learning, and the role Modern Languages has in helping us to better understand digital culture, which is global and multilingual by nature. By ‘Modern Languages’ here, we mean the study of languages other than English, and include overlapping work in other areas such as language-focused Area Studies, Translation Studies and Linguistics. Our research is largely based on experiences in the UK but may be of interest to others working in Modern Languages, particularly in other anglophone contexts.
We explored these interactions though a series of initiatives:
- Mapping Multilingualism and Digital Culture workshop, 2017.
- Modern Languages programme review, 2018.
- Attitudes towards digital culture and technology in the Modern Languages questionnaire survey, 2019.
- Literature review of Modern Languages policy documents, 2019.
- Ideating the Modern Languages Curriculum workshop, 2019.
- Digital Modern Languages Tutorial Writing Sprint workshop, 2019 and publication as a Special Collection in Modern Languages Open, 2020.
- Interview study with Modern Languages policy makers and digital practitioners, with follow-up interviews to assess post-pandemic impacts, April 2018 to January 2022.
- Disrupting Digital Monolingualism workshop, 2020 and report, 2021.
- Digital Modern Languages seminar, 2019 to present.
Many of these are described in the sections for Activities and Publications. Our Final Report describes them in more depth, with recommendations for digital policy and strategy in Modern Languages at Higher Education level.