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How OWRI influences policy makers

A key aim of all four OWRI projects and the Modern Languages Leadership Fellow (MLLF) was to change attitudes towards languages and language learning amongst key stakeholders and policymakers. This included exploring ways of facilitating and embedding a sense of common purpose and vision with respect both to languages, and to Modern Languages as an academic discipline. Modern linguists have not been as quick as, for example, historians to engage with policymakers, and OWRI sought to remedy this.

Learn more about how the individual OWRI Projects and the work of the AHRC Modern Languages Leadership Fellow contributed to the policy environment below.

Cross Languages Dynamics team in Westminster
ORWI Parliamentary reception in Westminster, showcasing the work of research projects and engaging with politicians and other stakeholders.
From left to right: Victoria Prentis MP chats to members of the Cross Languages Dynamics team in Westminster.
Principal Investigators of the OWRI projects with Stephen Kinnock MP and Neil Kenny, British Academy.
Stephen Kinnock MP and Jim Shannon MP address OWRI parliamentary reception, 28 November 2018.

Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies (MEITS)

The MEITS online journal, Languages, Society and Policy publishes concise jargon-free contributions based on peer-reviewed outputs. A go-to resource for high-calibre research on multilingualism for non-academic interest groups, it is a forum for policy papers, opinion pieces and dialogues on policy issues for all the OWRI projects, as well as the wider body of Modern Languages researchers.

MEITS hosted Policy Fellows through the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP), University of Cambridge. The programme aimed to deliver opportunities for decision makers from government and industry to forge useful and lasting connections with researchers.

From 2016 to 2020 the three Policy Fellows were:

Team members have provided their expertise to policy makers in Northern Ireland, the British Academy, European Commission and APPG on Modern Languages.

Working alongside the Modern Languages Leadership Fellow MEITS ran policy workshops that brought together policymakers from relevant government bodies in Whitehall and the devolved administrations, researchers, and the third sector for knowledge exchange and network creation. Each workshop produced policy briefings, drawing on Cambridge’s expertise in public policy.

Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community Project (CLDRC)

CLDRC contributes to policymaking in domains corresponding to its three research strands.

  • The Multilingual Strand has developed a close relationship with local authorities and key public services, initiating a partnership through which research tools and datasets, compiled by researchers, can be used by authorities to assess needs relating to population diversity. Themes include surveys of linguistic landscapes, managing interpreter services and language skills in the next generation workforce. Policy briefings are available on the project website at: www.projects.alc.manchester.ac.uk/cross-language-dynamics.
    See also details on our calls to change the census wording around languages, and responses from policy makers.
  • The Transnational Strand research benefits policy makers by advancing their understanding of how language community identities and inter-community tensions influence international relations. Language Policies in the Former-Soviet Space examined contemporary language policies in and across the multilingual and multinational geopolitical area that was once the Soviet Union, together with its immediate environs.
    Policy papers co-developed with Chatham House summarized the security implications of this research, with particular reference to contested areas of the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. You can find out more about this policy work on Radical Islam in the MENA region on Durham University website.
    Finally, the strand targets the narrative of so-called Islamic State, aiming to illuminate its communications strategy, the reception of its message and the responses of key Arab actors. This work also contributed to a book Islam, IS and the Fragmented State.


  • The Translingual Strand policy-related research included research on translingual world literatures. This informed workshops involving teachers from Tower Hamlets, feeding into school curricular policies on the teaching of English. Working in Partnership with Southwark Council researchers also worked with the Latin American Community in South London.
    The strand also targeted research on translation which, via collaboration with Slovene EU translators, aimed to generate insights of relevance to the policies and practices of the European Language Commission (Brussels).

Language Acts and World making

Language Acts and World making seeks to influence policymaking via a series of White Papers aimed at informing ML strategy across the sector.  

  • The Diasporic Identities Strand addressed the state of the ML teaching profession in the UK, presenting evidence and recommendations on the professional development needs of teachers based on its research into language teachers’ professional and cultural identities and the challenges they face.
  • The Digital Mediations Strand collaborated with innovation partners within academia and beyond, advising on how ML researchers can better work with digital data, models and interfaces, provoking debate on how ML research ecosystems can be improved. This strand will have consequences for the public’s access to languages and language research and will have significant impact on digital and academic policy and practice.
  • The Language Transitions Strand has carried out an extensive survey on the provision and use of language learning among postgraduate research students at UK HEIs.  The outcome of this was referenced in an article Language learning experiences of postgraduate research students in the UK published alongside colleagues from the Diasporic Identities Strand.

All policy papers will be published in the Languages, Society and Policy journal, ensuring a common voice across the OWRI initiative. Policy impact will also be facilitated by our partners, including Routes into Languages and Network for Languages London.

Creative Multilingualism

Creative Multilingualism was designed to raise awareness of the value of linguistic diversity for sustaining and stimulating creativity. Researchers participated regularly in the meetings of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages. Often in collaboration with project partner the British Council this led to following up leads that emerged from the presentations and discussions. E.g with the DfE, the FCO, cultural departments of embassies, and other organisations engaged in the promotion of languages. The partnership opened up channels for promoting an understanding of linguistic diversity in conversations with and beyond Europe. In 2018/19, collaboration with a policy partner JNCL extended this work to comparative exploration of multilingualism in the UK and US.

Policy work relating to schools focused on extending and invigorating the dialogue between secondary and tertiary education in Modern (Foreign) Languages and making this cooperation more visible and efficacious. A matter of priority was to ensure that the ongoing difficulties with fair grading are addressed effectively, since these continue to undermine other efforts to improve take-up and progression in the subject. This was pursued through participation in the Modern Foreign Languages group convened by Ofqual.

You can read the letter and supporting documentation from Professor Katrin Kohl (who led the Creative Multilingualism programme) to Ofqual regarding severe grading, A level exam analysis, and GCSE grading.

A further policy priority of the programme is to promote the value of the arts through the concept of STEAM while making linguistic diversity visible as an associated national asset. A research strand on ‘Languages in the Creative Economy’, led from Birmingham City University, led on this in the context of the flagship STEAMhouse project.

Modern Languages Leadership Fellow

Janice Carruthers’ work as Leadership Fellow has a strong policy dimension with a particular focus on languages in the devolved regions. Two postdoctoral fellows worked with her:

  • Anik Nandi, worked on Community Languages in NI and Scotland; finishing in 2019
  • Leanne Henderson, works on Education policy in relation to Modern Languages in NI, Scotland and Wales.

The Leadership Fellow works closely with the PI of MEITS, Wendy Ayres-Bennett, in taking a number of joint policy initiatives forward, including the organisation of a series of policy workshops, and publication of Policy Briefings.

Janice is a member of the British Academy Language Advisory Group and is working with the British Council, AHRC, UUK and ASCL towards a National Languages Strategy for the UK. In July 2020 this led to the publication of Towards a National Languages Strategy: Education and Skills.