De George Wilson, Head of English Programmes France

05 juin 2024 - 17:50

George Wilson, our Head of English Programmes, recently gave a talk about what English-language teachers can learn from regional-language teaching initiatives at the IATEFL Conference in Brighton. In this blog post, he shares some of his thoughts.

On the continent of Europe, there are currently 129 vulnerable or endangered regional languages - great languages such as Occitan, Breton, Welsh or Cornish. Such languages become endangered when parents stop speaking them to their children and, in such cases, education becomes the most important way of protecting them and bringing them back to life. Despite the importance of their work, regional-language educators often work in challenging situations, without the support, resources and training available to English-languages teachers. My talk argued, however, that the difficulties they face have often forced them to engage in important debates and innovative practices from which the English Language Teaching (ELT) community can learn useful lessons.

Multilingual Practices

The first of these lessons is around language use in the learning process. In line with our growing understanding of language acquisition, there is increasing recognition within the ELT community that languages are not learnt in isolation and that learners’ own languages can be used to support the learning of English. This shift remains gradual, however, and the idea of English-only classrooms remains deeply rooted in ELT training and practice. Regional-language teachers have long been experimenting with multilingual practices however. For example, the term ‘translanguaging’, which refers to the use of multiple languages to reinforce learners’ conceptual understanding, was first coined in Wales in the 1980s, and translanguaging has now received official recognition as a core skill in the new Curriculum for Wales. There is therefore much that the ELT community can learn from the experience of their regional language colleagues, whether it be in terms of assessment, teacher training or the design of teaching materials that respect the role of multilingualism in the learning process.

Language and identity

There is also much that can be learnt from the way in which regional-language teachers link language to their learners’ identities. The English language has become an international lingua franca that can seem to belong to everyone and to no-one at the same time. Indeed, as part of its Future of English study, the British Council interviewed various education stakeholders across Europe and concluded that English is now often considered to be “a means to an end” rather than a foreign language (Patel, Solly and Copeland). This is radically different to the way in which regional languages are taught. Breton teaching, for instance, is consciously and consistently linked to “a sense of place”, with classes emphasising the links between the language, the local environment and the learners’ everyday lives. Such an approach has interesting implications for ELT, suggesting it could be useful to explore ways of underlining the relevance of English for our learners’ own lives so that they develop real ownership of this international language.

Language Diversity

Another interesting question that cuts across ELT and regional-language teaching is what version of a language should actually be taught. Regional-language educators have long been struggling with similar questions and there is much that can be learnt from their contexts. Many regional languages differ significantly from one locality to another. Often the solution has been to elevate or create one standard form for use in education, as in the case of Cornish, Welsh or Breton, but this has sometimes led to divisions within the speaker community. Traditional speakers of Breton, for instance, are sometimes unable to understand speakers of the neo-Breton used in education. Such cautionary examples highlight the importance of the gradual shift taking place within ELT away from the lionisation of a single standard form of the language towards a more fluid acceptance of different varieties. This change not only recognises linguistic reality but also empowers learners, who are no longer expected to emulate an often unachievable native-speaker model so long as they can communicate clearly and effectively in an international or local variety of English.

Final thoughts

There is therefore much that the ELT community can learn from discussions and innovations within the regional-language teaching community, particularly but not exclusively around identity, language use and diversity. It's important, however, that this learning flows in both directions. The ELT community has access to resources, training and financial support of which many regional-language teachers can only dream. It would therefore be mutually beneficial to reinforce links between our two communities, and initiatives such as the sharing of best practice and resources should be encouraged. In this way, it may be hoped that we can make progress together towards our common goal of protecting and promoting the multilingualism so essential to the creation of fair, prosperous and inclusive societies.


Moseley, C. (ed.) (2010). Atlas of the world's languages in danger, Paris: UNESCO.

Patel, M., Solly, M. and Copeland, S. (2023). The Future of English: Global Perspectives, London: British Council.

Wilson, G. (2023) ‘A comparative study of regional-language immersion education in Brittany and Wales’, Current Issues in Language Planning, 24:4, 418-439



George Wilson

George Wilson, Head of English Programmes France

George is Head of English Programmes in France. Our English Programmes teams support education systems to ensure the quality and inclusive teaching of English in France.

George has many years of experience teaching in France and Australia, and holds an MA in Comparative Education. His research focuses on inclusion and policies for multilingual practices. He is the author of a report into Breton and Welsh immersion programmes published in the academic journal Current Issues in Language Teaching.