Language Horizons.

Author: Lucy Jenkins
Published: 10th September 2020

Language Horizons (LH) was an ambitious and innovative project that harnessed the power of mentoring to inspire curiosity for languages and cultures in learners aged 12-14 (year 8 and year 9). The key aim was to translate that seed of curiosity and enthusiasm into a desire to take languages at GCSE. The idea for the project draws on the hugely successful MFL Mentoring project which has been running in Wales since 2015.
Language Horizons was funded by the Department for Education, England, and led by Cardiff University following successful bidding in two competitive tender rounds (2018 and 2019). With the core aim of increasing the number of learners taking languages for GCSE in England, the project was tasked with designing, implementing, and evaluating the success of a blended mentoring project for a new context.

Mission and Vision

The project sought to achieve its aims by:
• highlighting the benefits of learning a language at GCSE, A-level and degree level.
• raising expectations, improving motivation and strengthening the persistence and personal resilience of learners studying languages.
• creating sustainable links between higher education modern languages departments and partner secondary schools.
• offering classroom experiences and opportunities to language undergraduate and postgraduate students, with a view to encouraging a greater number to consider teaching and education, and to mobilise near-peer role-modelling to inspire learners.
• broadening the horizons and aspirations of learners by highlighting the wellbeing, career, and mobility opportunities available to those with language skills.

Language Horizons did not target learners studying a specified language but rather encouraged learners to be curious about all languages and cultures. It asked learners to challenge and question their perspectives and assumptions about others by validating a sense of multiplicity and multilingualism in the individual and in society. It endorsed the idea that everyone is part of a global community since no society is mono-lingual nor mono-cultural. It problematised the notion of a fixed identity and encouraged a view that being influenced by others, other languages, and other cultures, is additive not subtractive. Ultimately, it demonstrated that globality is a mindset, an outlook, and an attitude, as such it is not dependent on actual mobility and so is open to all, regardless of which language they are learning or of their proficiency. By approaching modern languages in this way, the project aimed to give learners agency over their language learning and their sense of who they are by creating an intrinsic motivation for language learning.


The project worked solely with learners who indicated they were unsure about continuing with modern languages after Key Stage 3. Language Horizons used mentoring methodology to create a learner-centred relationship that provided space for questions and exploration in order to build confidence and signpost opportunities for learning. Mentoring is a different practice to teaching with the mentor playing a unique role in the life of the learner. The mentor’s goal is to help mentees form their own views, develop different perspectives, and grow as a person. This mentoring was conducted both face-to-face and online through a bespoke digital platform with built in chat capabilities. Online resources were designed and developed by the project team and created the stimulus for the online sessions and interactions. Mentors were trained to deliver the activities face-to-face and online.
Language Horizons ran between 2018 and 2020, and successfully delivered two full years of mentoring. In its first phase (2018-2019), Language Horizons established a partnership between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University. In the larger subsequent phase (2019-2020), it grew to include The University of Warwick and Coventry University.


In its first phase, focused in South Yorkshire, the project worked with ten local schools and two hundred learners. All of the two hundred learners that participated during this phase had previously decided against languages. An external evaluation demonstrated that taking part in the mentoring sessions led to 53% of learners changing their mind and opting for a language GCSE. The success of the pilot led to it being refunded by the Department for Education to expand its reach in South Yorkshire and to establish a new hub in the West Midlands. This marked the advent of Phase 2.

Phase 2 of Language Horizons was a partnership between four universities in England and led by Cardiff University, Wales. Students from The University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, The University of Warwick, and Coventry University were trained to deliver mentoring sessions in two regions of England. During Phase 2, a total of 70 mentors mentored in 38 schools across both hubs. An external evaluation of the second year of the project found that 56% of the learners who took part in the five-week programme then went on to take modern languages for GCSE despite their prior uncertainty. This is against an average uptake of 46% across England and despite the complications brought about by Covid-19.

Unfortunately, funding for Language Horizons ceased in August 2020 following the evolving public health situation.

More information and further outcomes can be found in the external evaluation conducted in 2020. Click here to access it.

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