Modern Foreign Languages, phonics and reading strategies

Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) face persistent problems of low motivation and attainment among secondary school students, with a particular ‘dip’ around Year 8. As a result, MFL teachers and researchers are looking to develop more effective teaching approaches in the first few years of secondary school.

Literacy is an important aspect of foreign language learning but is often neglected at primary school, making this part of MFL particularly challenging for students when they reach secondary school. This study will investigate the effectiveness of two reading interventions which aim to improve French literacy attainment and motivation.

Working with Year 7 learners of French and their teachers, the researchers will trial two programmes of instruction: one using reading strategies to infer the meanings of unknown words, the other in phonics. They will aim to answer the following questions:

  • To what extent do these two programmes lead to improvements in French reading proficiency among Year 7 students?
  • To what extent do these two programmes lead to improvements in students’ proficiency in decoding sounds in French, their strategic behaviour when reading in French, their vocabulary knowledge, and their motivation for learning the language?
  • Is one of the programmes of instruction more effective than the other on any of the above measures?
  • What are teachers’ and students’ views on the two programmes?

The findings will have implications for MFL teachers and policy-makers. By shedding light on the features of effective practice for each type of intervention, the researchers hope to develop clear practical recommendations for teachers to draw on.

Project details



Dr Robert Woore, Professor Kathy Sylva, Professor Steve Strand and Dr Joshua McGrane, University of Oxford

Professor Suzanne Graham and Dr Louise Courtney, University of Reading;

Dr Alison Porter, University of Southampton

Funding programme:


Grant amount and duration:


September 2016 - September 2018