The most recent Language Trends Survey speaks about the importance of offering pupils the opportunity to engage with native speakers and of providing a model of authentic language and culture. However, due to financial pressures, many schools are no longer able to employ Language Assistants meaning that many students are unable to make the connection between language learning in class and the wider world and engage in activities which make language learning more realistic and inspiring.

Native speakers and language volunteers play a very important role in the Language Futures approach. In a Language Futures classroom, pupils choose a language they wish to learn and they receive personalised support from language mentors (volunteers) with an in-depth knowledge and fluency in a particular language, recruited to provide good models of the language and to advise pupils on specific language queries and learning tasks. Mentors, often native speakers or people who have spent long periods of time in a country, are drawn from the local community. Pupils speak powerfully about how mentors bring both the language and the culture of the language alive. They also extend a school’s ability to offer a wider range of languages and promote linguistic diversity across both primary and secondary schools.

“The Language Futures programme has been running at Linton Village College since 2009 and is taught during the school day as part of the curriculum,” explains Siobhan Judge, languages teacher at the school. “We currently have 34 Year 9 students who have chosen to study Arabic, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Norwegian, Russian and Turkish. Students immerse themselves in their chosen language and its culture with the support of volunteer community mentors who are either native speakers or have learnt the language themselves. This imaginative and enabling approach provides pupils with lifelong learning skills, enabling them to learn any language in the future.”

Mentors also speak very positively about the impact the experience has on them – how they enjoy the challenge of helping others to learn and making a valuable and useful contribution to their local community. Language Futures schools are thinking creatively when recruiting mentors. They are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds – they may be a parent, grandparent or family member with some connection to the school. They could be a pupil (older or peer), another teaching or non-teaching member of the school staff, a local person living in the area, from a local business or academic institution (e.g. a university student). Of course there are challenges and it is not always easy to find mentors in all languages (sometimes for geographical reasons). For this reason, from September we are trialling a blend of online mentoring alongside face-to-face sessions as part of a Nesta- funded project called Click, Connect, Learn.

Over the last two years, we have been carrying out a research study exploring the impact of the Language Futures approach on learners, teachers and the wider school community. The final research report will be available in early 2018. However, early indications have found that the use of mentors – additional adults or other learners as role models and conduits of culture, can be a powerful motivator for pupils.

As part of the approach, we have also developed a series of ‘Mentor’ resources for Primary and Secondary which are accessible on the Language Futures website. Resources range from a Step-by-Step Guide to setting up mentoring to guidance for student mentors.   You can also listen to Tina Rice who helped to establish Language Futures at Linton Village College speak about the role and importance of mentors.

For further information on the Language Futures approach, please contact the Language Futures Project Manager Clodagh Cooney by emailing


Language Futures was originally developed by Linton Village College in Cambridgeshire as part of a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Initiative. In September 2015 the Language Futures initiative was transferred to the Association for Language Learning, with legacy grant funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation until 2018.

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