The impact of statutory Modern Foreign Language (MFL) teaching in multilingual Key Stage 2 classrooms

  • Katy Finch

Student thesis: Phd


Modern Foreign Language (MFL) teaching has been a statutory part of the Key Stage 2 curriculum in England since 2014. As primary schools embed this linguistic dimension into their timetable, the range of languages already spoken by pupils at home is also becoming more diverse, with 21.3% of primary pupils in England learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) (DfE, 2020). The interplay of the introduction of MFL in linguistically diverse classrooms is addressed within this thesis, through the use of three complementary approaches. First, a qualitative methodology investigates teachers' experience of delivering MFL to multilingual classrooms both through direct practice observation and focus groups. Using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) the themes emerging from the lesson observations are brought together with those emerging from the focus groups to identify to what extent teachers' opinions and beliefs align with their practice. This includes teachers' positioning of MFL as a playful subject within focus groups, with self-reported apprehension about delivering metalinguistic and grammatical content to pupils. However, a minimal use of songs and games was in observed classes, with a greater focus on grammar and metalinguistic skills. The second approach focuses on pupils' response to the learning of MFL, specifically on whether EAL children differ in terms of metalinguistic awareness from their monolingual peers (Bialystok, 2001). Pupils learning EAL (N = 43) and their monolingual peers (N = 37) completed a battery of English and MFL metalinguistic tasks in four domains (language identification, morphology, morpho- syntax and syntax) at the end of Year 5 (aged 9-10). The MFL tasks were repeated at a second time point a year later. The results present an initial advantage for the EAL group in some MFL domains, but this advantage is less clear cut at the second phase. The impact home language, English vocabulary levels and classroom exposure to MFL may have on metalinguistic skills are discussed. Finally, an evidence-based approach to MFL pedagogy is taken. This provides teachers delivering MFL to multilingual Key Stage 2 classrooms research-based resources and teaching ideas. Using previous literature and the findings from the two new papers in this thesis, a selection of resources are presented in a teacher toolkit format. Teachers were surveyed on their views of the potential usefulness of these resources and overall, responded positively. Resources aimed at International New Arrival pupils and activities that draw on home-language cognates were particularly welcomed, but tasks focusing on morphology and syntax were perceived as potentially too challenging and may require simplification. The findings from the three papers in this thesis highlight the potential for learners of EAL to excel in the initial introduction of primary MFL due to enhanced metalinguistic skills, however, this advantage is not static. Although classroom teachers may be aware of the role multilingualism could play in the learning of MFL, little differentiation is made within lessons to incorporate this. Teachers may therefore benefit from access to resources and training that can facilitate the linking of home languages, MFL and English across the curriculum.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAnna Theakston (Supervisor) & Kamila Polisenska (Supervisor)


  • metalinguistic
  • MFL
  • pedagogy
  • English as an additional language

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