Linguistics for ALL

Greetings from CliE – the Committee for Linguistics in Education, which has been building bridges between linguistics and schools since 1980. (We live at - do drop by.) ALL is one of CliE’s constituent organisations, along with organisations for English teaching, EAL and a number of other subjects; CliE’s parents are the two main professional associations for linguistics (the LAGB and BAAL), who are both really keen to see those bridges built. This isn’t always easy, but there are a lot of linguisticians (= people who do linguistics) who are keen to help teachers of language, whether foreign or English.

One particularly good bridge, is the UK Linguistics Olympiad – UKLO. Some ALL members are already linked to UKLO, as registered teachers; if you’re interested, just go to We already have about 700 registered teachers, most of whom teach foreign languages, and over 4,000 children take part each year. Some teachers offer UKLO as a club for enthusiasts but some even enter whole forms.

What is the Linguistics Olympiad? It’s a problem-solving competition where all the problems consist of language data: typically, a few sentences in an unfamiliar language which competitors have to analyse so that they can produce or interpret other sentences. The competition is available at four overlapping levels, and one of the things we’re most proud of is that our youngest competitors (in the lowest level, of course) are in Year 4! 

Another cause for pride is that the UK teams have won an impressive number of Gold medals in the International Linguistics Olympiad against the Americans, the Chinese and the Russians, among others. But there's something for everyone in UKLO, whether you're taking your first steps in learning another language or you're an experienced polyglot; and whether your brain is supercharged or just ordinary.

The best way to get a feel for the competition, and why people keep coming back for more, is to try one of the problems. There are lots to choose from at Why not start with the tiny one on Georgian near the top of the page? 

There are three reasons why we think UKLO helps ALL members. One is that it appeals to the puzzle-addict part of the brain, like Sudoku or Scrabble, so it helps young people to see that languages aren’t just useful tools: they are also interesting objects of study in their own right. 

Another is that we see UKLO as a way to link analytic thinking to language teaching. The competition format isn’t the only way to sell this kind of thinking to children, but it certainly works for some of them, while some teachers start a Language lesson with a very short warm-up puzzle on a relevant topic in an unfamiliar language. 

And a third contribution that UKLO can make is to boost the intellectual standing of languages in comparison with the STEM subjects, which are the only other subjects that have national Olympiads.

Coming back to CliE, since launching UKLO in 2010, CLiE is still looking for opportunities to build bridges, so we’ve recently launched a new committee called LASER (Language Analysis in Schools: Education and Research) to develop ideas other than the UKLO competition. This project is still work in progress, but we’ve already taken over an issue of the journal Impact for a collection of brief opinion pieces about how language analysis can help with a range of subjects including maths, science and statistics. If you’re interested, you’ll find more at .

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