By helping teachers make modern foreign language education more interesting, enjoyable and effective for their students, research from the University of Reading is improving classroom practice and learning outcomes in schools all around the world.

Learning a modern foreign language (MFL) is an excellent way to enrich students’ cultural education, while also stimulating their brains and improving their social skills. But as anyone who has ever tried and failed to pick up a new language can tell you, it’s easy to become demotivated, especially if you are struggling to understand what you are reading and hearing.

In schools, this can be a real problem. To tackle it, research by Professor Suzanne Graham at the University of Reading is being used to adapt the design and the delivery of foreign language teaching in schools around the world, giving more emphasis to improving comprehension.

Professor Graham identified three factors influencing students’ decisions about whether to continue with MFL study, including metacognition (understanding their own learning); self-regulation (knowing how to improve their learning); and self-efficacy (believing in their ability to complete tasks successfully).

Improved comprehension involves all of these, and allows learners to  work with more authentic, and hence more interesting, material. Professor Graham highlighted the importance of giving learners the tools to understand culturally relevant, age-appropriate and emotionally engaging materials, along with the teaching approaches that are most effective in maintaining motivation across the transition from primary to secondary school.

By providing this evidence alongside clear guidelines for how teachers can improve their own knowledge and confidence, Graham’s research has led to significant changes in MFL teaching, training and assessment practices in more than 140 countries.

Her findings have been used to make changes to England’s frameworks for A-level and GCSE exams in modern foreign languages, while an online game developed as a result of her research has been used to assess the progress of more than 20,000 learners in 838 schools around the world.

Find out more

Giving up on language learning? It doesn’t have to be this way! (blog, Sept 2018)

Poorer children are being left behind when it comes to learning languages (blog, July 2017)

View the full impact case study on the REF 2021 website: Transforming Foreign Language Teaching: Motivation and Language Comprehension