our words make worlds

Language Learning Opens Doors to Other Worlds: Memory Acts through Digital Technologies


The MFL Student Mentoring Project encourages uptake of Modern Languages at GCSE, and aspiration to go to university, in schools across Wales. A collaboration between the Welsh Government, four Welsh Universities (Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea), and the four Welsh education consortia, it supports the transition from compulsory modern languages study at a critical juncture when modern languages become an optional GCSE subject (age 14). Working with 70+ secondary schools, it trains undergraduate modern linguists to act as mentors to pupils via a 6-week programme promoting the benefits of languages and intercultural communication. 

In 2017-18 the project developed a pilot digital platform, Digi-Languages, which blends face-to-face mentoring with e-mentoring to allow the project to work with schools more distant from the partner universities. The platform includes a series of bespoke activities and videos that pupils complete over a 6-week cycle. It places Welsh students’ bilingual heritage at the centre, showcasing language as something which influences an individual’s perception of their personal, local and transnational identity. 

In 2018, the project held two public engagement events, led by Prof Claire Gorrara and MFL Student Mentoring national coordinator Lucy Jenkins, showcasing its work and publicizing the Digi-Languages pilot. These were

  • Presentation at the APPG for Modern Languages: Working together: How universities can boost language learning in schools and the wider community – lessons from Wales, 11 October 2018
    The event was organised by the MFL Student Mentoring Project and involved bringing mentors past and present to share their experiences as language learners and members of the project to the APPG. The funding also provided travel for 2 school pupils and a teacher involved in the project in its first year. The event was run in partnership with Routes into Languages Cymru to include different projects currently active in partnership working between HEI and schools to promote languages. The event was attended by over 40 people including academics, DfE colleagues, Welsh Government colleagues and members of the language community. It was chaired by Tonia Antoniazzi MP for Gower and herself a former MFL teacher. 

  • Meetings with European colleagues at the Welsh Higher Education Bureau (WHEB), 6-8 November 2018 
    Claire Gorrara and Lucy Jenkins met with a series of colleagues over a 2-day stay in Brussels, Belgium. This involved meetings with colleagues from Trentino, Galicia, Castilla y Leon, Bretagne, Alliance Française, the Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity and Catalonia. These meetings showcased Wales’ Digi-Languages project as a way of approaching conversations around identity and languages with young learners. The meetings were focused on ways in which devolved/regional educational administrations could learn from current practice in Wales as well as an opportunity to explore potential areas of collaboration.

These events led to further public engagement opportunities. Firstly they began a partnership between the MFL Student Mentoring Project and the Regional Government of Castilla y Leon. This has generated a four-day visit (5– 9 March 2019) for four mentors from Cardiff University to visit Valladolid to mentor year 6 primary school pupils on the importance of multi- and pluri-lingualism. This work has been integrated into a final-year credit-bearing module in the school of Modern Languages at Cardiff University. The project remains to run one session of online mentoring, and final face-to-face mentoring visit at the end of April.

Secondly, Claire Gorrara and Lucy Jenkins visited Brussels 27-28 February 2019 with a group of 14 mentors and project team members.  The team was invited to participate in the Welsh Government’s St. David’s Day celebrations held in Brussels to promote European partnership working. Past mentors from Aberystwyth, Swansea and Bangor attended, along with current mentors from Cardiff and Sheffield. The project also collaborated with a Physics Mentoring Project, funded by Welsh Government, to showcase the impact of the project methodology on other disciplines. The project team held a day of workshops at the WHEB offices which included looking at translation, visual materials and activities for the language classroom; all of which emphasised digital practice as a way to transcend national boundaries.