Sabrina Billings on Language and Tanzanian Beauty Pageants

Sabrina Billings, author of  Language, Globalization and the Making of a Tanzanian Beauty Queen, describes how she came to research Tanzanian beauty pageants.

When people learn that I have just written a book about language and Tanzanian beauty pageants, one of several questions typically surfaces. Those who are not familiar with the often relatively obscure research interests of anthropologists, including linguistic anthropologists such as myself, ask, How did you become interested in such an unusual topic? Others wonder, What do beauty pageants have to do with language? Many query, How are standards of beauty different in the US and East Africa? And sometimes, people sheepishly ask, Did you yourself ever participate in beauty pageants?

Language, Globalization and the Making of a Tanzanian Beauty QueenI am taking this invitation to blog about my book as an opportunity to set the record straight: No, I never participated in beauty pageants! In fact, I grew up seeing pageants as a rather antiquated and sometimes disturbing, albeit occasionally entertaining, form of quintessentially American popular culture. And beyond watching with some delight the question and answer portions of the events on TV, it never once occurred to me to consider the happenings at pageants from a scholarly, let alone sociolinguistic, point of view.

Rather, my interest in beauty pageants began as a fluke during my first ever visit to Tanzania as a graduate student participating in an intensive Swahili language program in the lovely, mid-size city of Morogoro. After seeing banners advertising an upcoming pageant I convinced several of my classmates to come with me, purely for the novelty of the experience. From the moment I stepped in the doors, I knew I would have to rethink my assumptions about beauty pageants. While sharing many of the trappings of pageants familiar to me – a decorated stage, bantering MCs, choreographed dance numbers, and besequined contestants – what was going on at these events was vividly different. Perhaps most surprisingly, the audience had come for a party. Young people, dressed to the nines in fashionable clothing, mixed and mingled, enjoying bar drinks and lively dance music. Well-dressed older people were there too, visiting, laughing, or waiting patiently.

After the event got started, I started paying attention to language use. One of the MCs engaged in a lot of English-Swahili codeswitching, while the other one used mostly pure Swahili. At one point, with my fledgling Swahili skills and the ample amount of English used by the one MC, I was able to understand them discussing the fact that Swahili was the national language and important for everyone to know, though contestants were allowed to speak either English or Swahili. I also picked up on threads of a discussion between the two MCs about the relative importance of each language, a topic which struck me as unusual for such a jovial atmosphere. Some of the comments seemed to be grappling with the fact that one of the contestants was from East Asia and did not know Swahili at all. Though there was much that night I did not understand, two main points became clear to me: 1) that these pageants were hip, which in my mind, was the antithesis of those with which I was familiar, and 2) that these pageants allowed for some kind of display and negotiation of local linguistic practices, policies, and ideologies.

For a couple of years, while I was completing my coursework and exams for my PhD, I ruminated over the events of that night, and as I learned more about language ideologies, East Africa, and beauty pageants, I decided to run with it and make these events the focus of in-depth fieldwork on pageants in three cities across Tanzania, research which would culminate in my dissertation.

While my original fieldwork and dissertation focused primarily on language ideologies exhibited in and around pageants, the present book is much expanded in scope and moves well beyond strictly linguistic considerations. The book reflects a decade of engagement with pageants and their participants, allowing, among other things, for a longitudinal glimpse of women’s lives after pageants. Most broadly, my book addresses how young Tanzanian women attempt to craft satisfying lives for themselves, how pageants play a role in their efforts, and how language use facilitates or constrains these dreams.

Three main themes are threaded through the book: education, globalization, and opportunity. In terms of education, I consider how contestants are able to manipulate their often rudimentary knowledge of English to present themselves as elite, and how such contestants often win over their fluent Swahili-speaking counterparts. In terms of globalization, I examine how global norms for language, dress, and beauty circulate in Tanzania and get reinterpreted in locally meaningful ways, and also how linguistic and non-linguistic signs are linked together in clusters to convey recognizable identities. Finally, in terms of opportunity, pageants provide contestants the occasion to engage in a cosmopolitan femininity, and speaking English is often a key component. Most importantly, for many contestants, the primary reason they compete is the hope of winning money in order to return to school, and especially, to continue learning English.

In the end, while participating in pageants is a positive experience for many young women, it does not provide the opportunity for upward and outward mobility that many seek. Unequal access to education, to elite varieties of language, as well as to preferred models of femininity, means that at the highest levels of national competition, only those contestants who have been raised in elite urban households have any chance of winning the crown. The irony then is that at the Miss World competition, the best contestant in all of Tanzania tends to find herself ranked very low, as her linguistic skills become commonplace there while other structural inequalities have resulted in her being much less prepared than competitors from other nations.

The book is informed theoretically and thematically by broad topics such as language ideologies, language in education, and language policy. I have attempted to write an accessible, engaging, and pertinent book, of wide interest to students and teachers of sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, anthropology, cultural and gender studies, and more. I hope readers enjoy it!

To find out more about Sabrina’s book take a look at our website

Language Learning Motivation in Japan

A couple of months ago, we published Language Learning Motivation in Japan edited by Matthew T. Apple, Dexter Da Silva and Terry Fellner. Here Matthew gives us a bit more detail about how the book came together.

Language Learning Motivation in JapanLanguage Learning Motivation in Japan began to coalesce as a feasible book project during preparations for a conference in Tokyo, in June 2011. We had already contacted and arranged for guest speakers from both inside and outside Japan, and all six graciously offered to contribute chapters to the book project.

Ultimately the conference attracted over 200 participants from around the world. Given the difficulties those of us based in Japan had recently experienced following the triple disaster of 3-11-11, it was extremely motivating to encounter so many dedicated language teachers and researchers. After the conference ended and the book project began in earnest, the response was overwhelming. We initially received well over 50 chapter abstracts but narrowed this down to eleven chapters to be included in the book.

We asked the authors to review each others’ chapters and encouraged them to refer to similar or contrasting concepts and findings in other studies in the book. By doing so, we believe the resulting book presents a clear, coherent snapshot of language motivation at various levels of education in Japan. Chapters touch upon salient issues related to motivation such as autonomy, cultural and personal identity, self-efficacy, intercultural competence, communities of practice, and the role of the teacher.

A key feature of the book is the inclusion of a roughly equal number of studies implementing quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods data analysis techniques. The main reason for this was our desire to encourage SLA researchers to look beyond the stereotypical quantitative-qualitative false dichotomy that often paralyzes and prevents communication among researchers and teachers. By including studies from statistical modeling to in-depth interview case study to diary study, we hoped to convince readers, whether established researchers and teachers or those in training both inside and outside Japan, to view such research approaches as complementary rather than conflicting.

Finally, as editors who consider ourselves teacher-researchers, we were keenly aware of the gap that exists between those in the field of SLA who see themselves as more or less pure researchers and those who regard themselves as down-to-earth practitioners at the chalkface. In our view, the teacher-researcher divide is just as much a false dichotomy as qual-quan. Both roles and both ways of approaching language education are essential: they are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. We therefore encouraged authors to consider how their research could inform practice in the language classroom, and we hope the results will prove useful from both a pedagogical and a theoretical point of view.

While the research is tightly focused on language learning in Japan, we believe that teachers and researchers around the world will find value in every chapter. This focus, rather than reducing the applicability of the findings, further illustrates the multifaceted, dynamic, nuanced, and incredibly complex world of language learner motivation, and also brings up intriguing questions regarding the influence of “culture” on learners’ attitudes. Additionally, much recent world news about Japan has been rather negative: we hope that the research and teaching theories, research, and practices discussed in Language Learning Motivation in Japan provide positive examples of an active, growing community of language learners and educators.

For more information on this title and for ordering information, please visit the book’s page on our website here.

Hybridity and Global Flows: The Fusion of Language and Culture

Earlier this month we published Rani Rubdy and Lubna Alsagoff’s book The Global-Local Interface and Hybridity and we asked them to tell us a bit about how the book came together.

The Global-Local Interface and HybridityWhy you may ask, did we choose to write about hybridity? Well, in this age of global flows and social networks, with so much give and take going on between people, cultures, ideas and ideologies, we think, as do many other researchers, that it is simply inconceivable to think of languages and cultures as separate anymore. The mixing and fusing that is part of globalisation is not just of food, dress, music, art, fashion or decor, or lifestyles, but percolates every aspect of language and culture.

With the global spread of English, English is in the thick of these global flows! The hybrid mixing of languages typical of local and regional multilingual settings has created new constellations for English, as speakers creatively play with, blend, stretch and refashion their language resources in numerous fascinating ways. Our book tries to capture just this allure, richness and creativity of the varied realizations of English-based hybridity found in different parts of the world. Of particular interest to us is the way these hybrid formations open up avenues for exploring the subtle connections between language, culture and identity.

We’ve divided the book up into four sections, each focusing on specific aspects of linguistic and cultural hybridity. The chapters in the first section illustrate how hybridity can be significant in dismantling conventional, narrow views about linguistic norms and canons that define language as bounded, fixed, and separate. Whether occurring as inventive strategies in advertising and on billboards and shop signs in Tanzania, India and the Philippines, or in bilingual educational contexts involving Latinos in the US, or in the mundane conversations among colleagues in an Australian workplace, the manifestations of English-based hybridity is found to be more in tune with the view of linguistic fluidity and flow in a globalizing world.

The second section of the book focuses on hybridized discourses in the media. Here the chapters describing instances of codeswitching between English and Hindi, Punjabi, French and Korean, respectively, depict the way they are in fact reflective of a fusion between local and global, old and new, traditional and modern speaker identities, often exploited as marketing strategies. The chapters in the third section set out to examine the linguistic practices of online communities such as Facebook, Internet and YouTube users, who develop hybrid vernaculars in forging new identities and remaking social relationships. How hybrid language use becomes a means of enacting glocal hybrid identities that can be both celebratory as well as conflicting is the theme of our fourth section, exemplified by chapters dealing with adolescent girls of Japanese and White mixed parentage, by Singaporean student teachers weaving their global and local identity orientations through online discussions and even through narratives of subjective introspection of the inner space in the context of the Filipino diaspora.

Although the central theme is about hybridity, our authors are by no means presenting a “romantic” view of hybridity and offer a critical and balanced view of hybridity, acknowledging, in particular, the problematic dimensions which see corporate and market forces using hybridity to serve their own capitalist purposes. However, as we acknowledge that hybridity may not be able to fully address issues of social inequality or even notions of linguistic and cultural essentialism, we argue in our book that at its heart lies an attentiveness towards agency and voice for those who dare to break the bounds of convention!

For more information on this title and for ordering information, please visit the book’s page on our website here

Identity and Language Learning

This autumn we published the 2nd edition of Bonny Norton’s book Identity and Language Learning. Here, we ask her a few questions about the new edition.

Identity and Language Learning The first edition of your book Identity and Language Learning was published in 2000. How has the field changed since then and why did you see a need to update the book?

As I indicate in the Preface to the second edition, my students at the University of British Columbia encouraged me to bring out my 2000 book as an ebook. I was excited by the idea of making my work more widely accessible – and affordable! This is why the subtitle of the second edition is: “Extending the Conversation”. It was also clear that research on identity and language learning had grown exponentially over the past decade, and that there was a need to locate the earlier research in this wider literature. In the Introduction to the second edition, I update the literature on identity and language learning, including an elaboration of my theory of investment. Issues of imagined identities and imagined communities are also central in this literature review. I have taken the opportunity to address other related areas of interest such as teacher identity, digital identity, and transnational identity. Claire Kramsch’s Afterword places the text in its wider historical context, and is an inspired piece of writing.

How has the term ‘identity’ evolved since the publication of the first edition of your book?

What my 2000 book did was to highlight the ways in which a poststructuralist theory of identity can contribute to an understanding of language learning and teaching. The idea of identity as multiple, changing, and a site of struggle has helped to inform debates on language learning and teaching, and these ideas have gained momentum over time, particularly with emerging scholars.  The theory of investment has also helped to inform changing conceptions of motivation in the field, as exemplified in the work of Zoltan Dörnyei and Ema Ushioda.

How then does your theory of investment differ from conventional theories of motivation?

Investment is a sociological construct, while motivation is a psychological construct. This is a very important distinction between the two constructs.  The construct of investment helps teachers to understand the relationship between engagement in learning and learner identity. It also highlights the ways in which relations of power might impact social interaction in classrooms and communities, both virtual and face-to-face.  For example, a teacher might have a seemingly unmotivated student who doesn’t participate or talk in class. But if the student, for example, is a good guitar player, the teacher could say, “let’s have a jam session and play some music.” The student’s identity then shifts from ‘unmotivated student’ to ‘musician’, and the student becomes more engaged in the activities of the classroom. The student may have always been motivated to learn, but not necessarily invested in the language practices of that particular classroom. Because of the jam session, the relationship between the student and the class changes, and the student begins talking with greater comfort and ease. The identity ‘musician’ gives the student more power in the classroom.

Can you elaborate on how investment relates more specifically to teacher identity?

To consider a different scenario: there may be a disjuncture between what the teacher (or school) considers good teaching, and what particular students (or their families) consider good teaching. Such a disjuncture may arise from different cultural traditions with respect to pedagogical practice, and what are perceived to be productive relationships between teaching and learning. For this reason, it is helpful for the teacher to ask not only, “Why is this student not motivated to learn?” but also, “Why is this student not invested in the language practices of my classroom?” The construct of investment assumes that both learners and teachers are central in the learning process, which is open to negotiation and change. How can teachers ensure that students are invested in the language practices of their classrooms? The most important challenge for the teacher is to promote practices that validate student identity and encourage student investment.

Does your future research address issues of identity?

Any research that includes human participants will have implications for theories of identity and investment, and this includes questions of researcher identity. Like many scholars in the field of language education, one of my identities is that of a transnational citizen, having been brought up in South Africa, had children in the USA, worked in Canada, and done years of research in Uganda. Over the next few years, I will be active in the groundbreaking African Storybook Project, an initiative of the South African Institute for Distance Education (see http://www.saide.org.za/african-storybook-project). This project draws on advances in digital technology to promote the multilingual literacy of children in sub-Saharan Africa. Open access digital stories, in multiple languages, are currently being developed for the three pilot countries of South Africa, Uganda, and Kenya. The stories are being uploaded on a comprehensive website, available for use not only in Africa, but also in the wider international community. As research advisor on this project, I’m helping to set up a research network that will advance the goals of the African Storybook Project. As learners, teachers, and communities engage in innovative ways with digital stories, there will likely be important shifts in both teacher and student identity. It’s a very exciting project, with huge implications for the future. Check out the 10-minute YouTube video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc-qjmdetp8&feature=youtu.be

You can find more information about Bonny’s book on our website

Being ‘foreign’: Italians and coffee, Danes and rye bread

TonVallenAward-kleinMartha Sif Karrebæk has recently been announced as the winner of the 2013 Ton Vallen award.  This is an annual award for papers written by new researchers  on sociolinguistic and educational issues in multicultural societies which we at Multilingual Matters are proud to support.  In this article Martha takes us on a tour from coffee in Rome to rye bread in Denmark to introduce us to the themes of her research.

I recently passed some days in Rome with my husband and two children. We had brought a guidebook (Lonely Planet, 2012) to enrich and facilitate our visit, and we spent much time studying the authors’ advice on all thinkable matters. As it is customary, the book included sections devoted to “Eating” and “Drinking & Nightlife” and in the latter the topic of coffee was explored. I quote from this:

“For Romans, coffee punctuates and marks the process of the day, from the morning and mid-morning cappuccino, to the afternoon espresso pick-me-up, or summertime granita with cream. To do as the Romans do, you have to be precise about your coffee needs… [here follows a longish paragraph on the different varieties of coffee and their names caffè, caffè macchiato, caffè all’american etc.]. Then, of course, there’s the cappuccino… Italians drink cappuccino only during the morning and never after meals; to order it after 11am would be, well, foreign.”

The quote presents Romans as having similar and very specific coffee practices, and that the variety of coffee one chooses is defined by the time of the day and of the year (at least). You can easily become recognizable as a tourist – or ‘foreign’ relative to the Romans – if you do not adhere to this specified order. It is clearly one of the goals of the guidebook to educate tourists, or ‘foreigners’, to be able to “do as the Romans do” (evidenced by the many repetitions of the phrase “do it the Roman way / do as the Romans do”, moreover the book had several sections on etiquette). Thus, we were supposed to take the advice into account. Also, the small “well” inserted between commas (to order cappuccino in the afternoon would be, “well, foreign”) indicates that the self-identification as ‘foreign’ is undesirable. In fact, when you do not observe the norm for coffee ordering, it becomes a transgression of a moral order. You show yourself not to be interested to blend in, to integrate – or should I say: to assimilate?

Food (including drinks and beverages) and food practices are culturally specific, and they can be used to define who is, and who is not, part of a social community. Phrased differently, they can be said to ‘index’ cultural and social belonging and identity. Such practices are created and re-created all the time, and they are taught to children and newcomers both explicitly, through manuals such as my guidebook, or through parental advice, and implicitly as demonstrations of normal behaviour in the everyday routines. A community is always defined relative to other communities, and therefore food and food practices can also be used to show who is not regarded as part of the community. Guests, or ‘visiting outsiders’, are often treated with distrust; they are potentially disruptive of the social community. In order to overcome the suspiciousness, guests should demonstrate how they respect and observe the cultural norms of the host community.

Now, of course, this is a very simplified description. Yet it is relevant both to my recent experiences on the trip to Rome and to my fieldwork in an urban school in Copenhagen. As I have reported in the academic paper “What’s in your lunch-box?”, in this school the lunch-boxes of children with an immigrant background were taken to index their and their families’ attitude to Danish society and their educational potential in general. Bread became a proxy for something more important, namely national belonging, national fidelity and solidarity. It was treated as obligatory that the children brought the traditional variety of bread rye bread for lunch. This obligatory status was disguised as part of a health discourse. “Rye bread is healthy, white bread isn’t.” As it is unthinkable these days to refuse to obey advice given in the name of health (the health discourse is pervasive, intrusive and of a moral character) children were forced to bring and eat rye bread, no matter whether they liked it or not, and regardless of the fact that there are many other ways to compose a healthy lunch. Moreover, the children were put in very difficult situations as they mediated between their home where rye bread was not necessarily consumed and where other food items may have been attributed with higher value than rye bread, and school, where teachers were very explicit about their parents’ lack of competence when they did not observe the rye bread order. The children were left to find their own way to navigate between the school and the home as different normative centres of authority.

My family and I are good-mannered people so we refrained from ordering cappuccino after 11 AM – as we were told to – in Rome. Yet, despite this highly conscious work on ‘integrating’ we still managed to transgress some of the food cultural norms. It turned out that it was highly unexpected that we order espresso (caffè) as well as caffè macchiato (instead of at least latte macchiato) and even granita (a sort of sherbet made on a very strong espresso) for our 12 year old son, who drinks coffee with more pleasure than his mother. We were asked, again and again, if this was really what we intended to order; the probably well-meaning waiters tried to convince us that it wasn’t, it couldn’t be. When the coffee eventually was served, the waiter would put it on the table in front of the child with a very inquisitive facial expression, gazing at him, then at his mother, who had insisted on this beverage. We certainly felt that we had failed to demonstrate good or appropriate parenthood. Of course, there may be other interpretations. It may be the case that we just didn’t demonstrate to be the habitual tourists – which would be somehow a success as we really made an effort not be touristic at all. However, in that case I would have expected some comments or reactions that were supportive of our choice, yet, we never received that. No smiles or other approving responses. In the urban school where I did fieldwork, the children were never explicitly told that rye bread was only obligatory for lunch. In the morning you could choose to eat other things, even white bread (although oats with milk was placed higher in the breakfast hierarchy). Neither were they told that possible breakfast items did not include, e.g., lasagne. This was learned gradually in the classroom, in public, while being on display.

To conclude, it is very hard to learn to observe cultural norms unfamiliar to you even when you try to. Many norms tend to be implicit rather than explicit. I haven’t touched upon the consequences of the social transgressions that you then end up doing. For us, in Rome, the social repercussions were minimal, but the children in the classroom suffered a daily marginalization. Their social transgressions had much more serious possibly long-term effects.

So, remember not to drink caffè when you are under 12 in Rome, and not to eat white bread for lunch, and lasagne for breakfast, when in Denmark. Because then you show yourself to be, well, foreign.

Martha Sif Karrebæk

Martha’s page at the University of Copenhagen can be found here.

Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learning

Florentina Taylor, author of the recently published Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learningwrites here about the inspiration for her book.

Imagine for a moment a group of medics debating the best cure for a condition that a patient appears to be suffering from. They have ordered several tests and, based on the results, they are quite confident they can cure the condition with the medicines that, to the best of their knowledge, are considered to be the most effective at the time. How likely is it that they can recommend a successful treatment without including the patient in the discussion? Could there be something in the patient’s medical history they’re not aware of? Could the patient be allergic to some of the substances in the recommended pills? Is the patient taking other medicines that may affect the effectiveness of the intended treatment? Ultimately, does the patient understand the benefits of the proposed cure, and is he or she committed to swallowing three pills a day with plenty of water, before each main meal, in order for the treatment to be successful?

Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language LearningAs language educators dedicated to bringing out the best in our students, we spend huge amounts of time thinking, reading and writing about the best teaching methods, the best materials, the best tests, the best motivational techniques. We debate, we argue, we question and we persist in the obstinate belief that one day we will succeed in engaging the disengaged, enabling the not-yet-able and retaining the so-far-engaged-and-able. Yet, we sometimes resemble a group of medics trying to cure real or imaginary conditions without actually consulting the patient.

In language education, such a condition can take many forms. In English-speaking countries, there is a generalised perception that nobody wants to learn foreign languages because ‘everybody speaks English nowadays’, although there is evidence that English is losing ground as the language of international communication and, clearly, not everybody speaks English. While more and more worrying statistics show how low interest in languages leads to university departments closing down and how businesses are losing out on the global market due to poor language skills, we language educators know that instrumental, means-to-an-end reasons to study languages are less important than intrinsic, personally fulfilling drives. After all, how many of us become interested in languages and are prepared to spend a significant amount of time and effort working on our skills for fear a language department or an international business might close down otherwise?

In non-English speaking countries, where foreign language study is often compulsory at school, or in English-speaking contexts that make foreign language study compulsory, we may find different symptoms of – I would argue – a very similar ‘condition’. Whether or not to study a language may not be an option for many such students, but there is always the option whether or not to engage with the language classes one has to attend. There’s also the option whether to really engage, to sort-of engage or to just put in as little effort as necessary to give the impression that you are engaged so you are left alone to see to your own personally relevant agenda. In such an environment, the teacher is often fighting a losing battle, as few signs may be giving away the fact that many students are not actually as interested in the language lesson as they appear to be and they are not working as hard as they would have us believe.

Does it matter? Well, research shows that it does. The recently published Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learning depicts language learners as caught between contradictory expectations (e.g., teacher versus peers) resulting in complex identity negotiations that enable them to please both the teacher, ’who gives the marks’, and the peers, who would otherwise punish nonconformity with ostracism. The learners’ own expectations and wishes are often muted in an effort to please (or, for that matter, irritate) other people. And, if formal achievement measures are anything to go by, there is evidence that students who feel they need to undertake such strategic negotiation and display of identity have lower foreign language scores than those who do not. Students who feel appreciated as real persons by the language teacher, who do not feel the need to pretend they are what they are not, appear to obtain the highest language scores. Moreover, they feel respected and, in turn, respect their teacher, they are prepared to work hard in and out of class, they feel they are real stakeholders in their own education.

Based on the data discussed in this book, several ways in which teachers can show they value their students as ‘real persons’ are:

  • helping them understand how what is happening today in the classroom will one day be of use to them in real life;
  • being understanding and caring when students struggle with a particularly difficult concept;
  • providing supporting and informative feedback that allows students to learn and make progress;
  • not punishing or ridiculing mistakes (e.g., pronunciation, grammar);
  • allowing for a degree of student initiative and autonomy in organising group activities and projects;
  • expecting that their students achieve their best and helping them to do so;
  • accepting that students may sometimes disagree with the teacher, which is perfectly normal in any social group;
  • believing in students’ potential and intrinsic value as human beings;
  • ultimately, respecting them as we would (should?) any other person.

Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learning presents numerous direct quotations from student interviews, as well as statistical analyses to support these suggestions, arguing that caring for students as individuals does have a number of benefits, from better classroom dynamics to better achievement. The book proposes a new model of identity based on educational psychology concepts and theories applied to foreign language learning. The project reported in this book tested the model with 1,045 adolescents learning English as a foreign language in Romania. The model has also been tested, with very similar results, with learners of English as a foreign language and Mathematics in four other European countries. Although in a different context and using a different theoretical framework, similar insights were also obtained when researching the perceived relevance of Modern Foreign Languages in England.

The consistent, albeit circular, message that many studies conducted in Europe and elsewhere seem to give is that low foreign language uptake and lack of interest in language classes are mainly due to acute student demotivation. My own work with adolescents learning languages in Bulgaria, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain and the UK has shown that young learners are actually very motivated and interested in languages, that they understand the value of knowing other languages and are willing to invest time and effort in becoming (more) able to do so. But, in all these different contexts, many students appear to feel left out of their own education and, if they are indeed suffering from a condition that needs addressing urgently, I believe it is the need to feel they matter as individuals. Education is meant to inspire future generations to be better than us and do greater things than we have. But inspiration, like education, is not something that we can do to our students. Truly inspiring and educating our students is not possible without giving them a very clear message through our words, attitudes and actions: you matter.