Reigniting their love of MFL


A new initiative is encouraging schools to combine language teaching with the teaching of other key subjects. Suzi Bewell takes a look at the immersion approach to MFL.

The Association for Language Learning (ALL) has set up FLAME, a new initiative to support CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) and bilingual learning.

FLAME stands for “Future for Language as a Medium of Education” and was launched in January. It aims to support the many ways that teachers are combining languages with other subjects, whether bringing subject topics into language lessons, teaching subject modules, or teaching one or more whole subjects through a language other than English. FLAME plans to:

  • Bring together people with a shared interest in bilingual learning.

  • Help teachers to collaborate and share ideas.

  • Provide valuable information and advice for schools.

  • Arrange open days to see CLIL and bilingual learning in action. 

  • Improve the availability of learning resources.

ALL hopes that FLAME will increase the number of primary and secondary schools that combine language teaching with the teaching of key subjects, and that this in turn will help to transform the quality of language learning in schools.

CLIL, which is very popular as a means of teaching languages in Europe (and has been for some time, especially in Spain) has sadly not been adopted in many schools in the UK. This could be for several reasons. CLIL requires languages teachers to teach predominantly in the target language, something which the most recent MFL Ofsted report, Achievement and Challenge, deemed to be an apparent weakness in MFL departments.

The use of the TL (target language) has always been an area of debate and with the advent of personal, learning and thinking skills and Learning2Learn, many MFL teachers have seemingly resorted to teaching for the most part in English. 

FLAME seeks to address this issue with immersion teaching and requires very careful planning and a clear and rigorous implementation strategy on a departmental level.

Teaching FLAME is very different from teaching MFL in the traditional way. From working with schools in my role as course leader for PGCE MFL at the University of York, I have observed that many languages departments still teach a fairly traditional curriculum whereby students entering in year 7 are most likely to learn about such topics as self and family, pets, pencil case and perhaps daily routine. Do most 11-year-olds really want to talk about such things in their own language, let alone the target language?

I would strongly argue that the level of cognitive challenge in MFL compared with other core subjects could be deemed to be lower, and this poses the question of student engagement and motivation (or lack thereof).

What I believe FLAME aims to do is to bridge the gap between CLIL and traditional methodology, allowing teachers the freedom to teach more engaging cross-curricular topics predominantly in the target language.

In turn, learners will have a much stronger motivation to learn a language in order to communicate for real and relevant reasons. It is essential that we as language educators stimulate the desire to want to learn a foreign language, especially in a world where GCSE up-take for languages in the UK is at an all-time low.

At the University of York, we took our first steps into introducing the CLIL/FLAME methodology to our MFL trainee teachers last academic year. Science and MFL trainees collaborated to produce an exciting array of resources to teach scientific concepts to year 7 and the fruits of our labours can be found online (see further information).

This work will continue into 2013 where we are hoping to work more closely with Professor Do Coyle, an expert in CLIL from the University of Aberdeen. We feel that this could be an exciting and effective means by which we can start to get our University of York partner schools engaging in a conversation about the possibility of experimenting with FLAME in the future.

Get involved in the debate

ALL launched its first FLAME newsletter in February – this can be found by searching the ALL website (see further information for this and all other referenced links). There is also a FLAME web page in the Community section of the ALL website.

Elsewhere, CLIL case studies from the work done by Links into Languages are a useful resource. MFL practitioners may also be interested in visiting the CLIL for Teachers wiki which contains many free and ready to download resources which are being shared by colleagues in schools where the CLIL/FLAME methodology is being successfully implemented into the MFL department.

There are also several case studies online, via the CILT archives, whereby those MFL specialists who are currently unfamiliar with the idea of CLIL/FLAME can read about and view video footage of practising primary and secondary practitioners of languages using the FLAME methodology with their learners, some as young as eight. 

MFL teachers, I hope I have inspired you to relight some fires today!

  • Suzi Bewell is currently the PGCE MFL curriculum area leader at the University of York. She is passionate about languages, learning and language learning. You can follow her on Twitter at or email

Further information



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