Changing the value of languages in the UK

Pop up language museum
School students visit the Pop-Up World of Languages (credit: Nick Saffell)

Research aimed at raising awareness of the value of languages to key social and political issues of our time, and the benefits of speaking more than one language, has resulted in ‘top-down’ impact on UK language policy and ‘bottom-up’ engagement through a pop-up museum of languages.

Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies (MEITS) led by Wendy Ayres-Bennett is a multi-disciplinary, multi-institution research project led by the University of Cambridge. It addresses the well-attested decline in numbers of students choosing languages at GCSE, A Level and in higher education, which reflects the relatively low status of languages.

Building on a National Languages Policy Workshop, Ayres-Bennett and the MEITS team have worked ‘top-down’ to change both the discourse about language policy and policy itself, through a policy journal, workshops, briefings, expert advice and training of policymakers.

Since the UK has no museum devoted to languages, MEITS designed and ran the first UK languages museum – the Pop-Up World of Languages – in accessible locations in Cambridge, Belfast, Edinburgh and Nottingham. The events were designed to change public opinion ‘bottom-up’ by demonstrating the value and the benefits of language learning through fun activities, especially for young people.

The first UK pop-up museum of languages

“Today I learnt… that learning a language is like revision for the brain.”

– Pop-Up World of Languages visitor