Linguists from the universities at Oxford and Cambridge are running a programme that brings a fresh approach to promoting language learning across the UK. Think Like a Linguist ran for the first time in 2023 for schools in Rochdale; the project will run for schools in Rochdale and Blackpool in 2024.

Think Like a Linguist helps students aged 12-13 to make informed choices about languages at GCSE, through a course of five interactive sessions with their peers, language professionals, university students and recent languages graduates. Each session focuses on a different aspect of language learning, and enables students to consider the question, What does it mean to think like a linguist? from a unique perspective. 

A slide from the first session, Kick-Start Multilingualism

A slide from the first session, Kick-Start Multilingualism

Throughout the programme, the young participants are treated as active linguists. Each session focuses on what the students can already do, and where this could take them. “Thinking like a linguist” is presented as a mindset, rather than a skillset. 

Session title Partner 
1: Kick-Start Multilingualism Modern and Medieval Languages, University of Oxford
The Queen’s College Translation Exchange 
2: Linguistics (lɪŋˈɡwɪstɪks)Linguistics, University of Oxford
3: Creative Translation Stephen Spender Trust 
4: Careers with LanguagesWidening Participation, University of Cambridge
Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics, University of Cambridge
5: Love LanguagesModern and Medieval Languages, University of Oxford
The Queen’s College Translation Exchange 

Think Like a Linguist is run by the Translation Exchange at the University of Oxford in partnership with the languages departments at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge and the literary charity the Stephen Spender Trust.

Chris Dobbs, Head of Academic Enrichment at Hollingworth Academy and Director of OxNet Youth Scholars at Pembroke College, University of Oxford, commented:

“We are delighted to host the project Think like a Linguist.

Engaging pupils in language learning from a variety of perspectives will we believe promote greater cultural awareness, develop a love for language study and help to develop resilience and self-confidence. The contributions made by visiting academics and their former students help to demystify the experience and enhance the value of studying languages at university level.”

Careful evaluation of the programme will produce recommendations on how universities can best support language learners and teachers at schools, and best practice for increasing the uptake of modern foreign languages at GCSE. The partners will build on the evaluation to roll the programme out in areas of the UK where the uptake of languages is very low.  

A slide from the first session, Kick-Start Multilingualism

The project launched in 2023 for schools in Rochdale; it culminated in a graduation event in Oxford in September 2023. In 2024 the project is running for schools in Blackpool and Rochdale. 60 students from twelve schools in the North West are involved, all currently in year 8 and studying French or Spanish. Participating students report back to their peers via school assemblies, and parents/guardians are invited to join the launch event and final graduation event.  

Students at the graduation event commented on their experience of the programme:

“I greatly enjoyed the programme, as it gave me an infinitely wider knowledge of language and what it means to be a linguist. I now know what career paths it can take you on; I now have the motivation to pursue it as a career.”

“I learnt that there is more to languages than speaking and listening. It is also about thinking in your own way.”

Founding partners

Delivery partners

Resource partners