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Meryl James is the Senior Professional Development Officer at SCILT, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages. Project Trust and SCILT have been developing ways for the two organisations to support each other’s work, not least through the Language Linking, Global Thinking pilot programme. Here Meryl explains how volunteering overseas inspires young people to engage with language learning, and how in turn those young people can motivate pupils to learn languages in UK schools:

Our remit at SCILT is the promotion of languages across the board and to link this work with businesses and the wider community. We do so in a range of different ways, including offering workshops to support the new qualifications, running promotional events, supporting the 1+2 Approach to language learning, preparing materials and raising awareness of relevant research.


When we came to Coll to speak to Project Trust volunteers on Debriefing, quite a number told us they hadn’t enjoyed languages at school, but really developed a passion for them whilst they were overseas. Many said if it weren’t for learning the language they would have been half as effective as a volunteer.

The minute that somebody experiences being lifted out of a secure, comfortable environment and placed somewhere else, they have to learn a lot of language with which they are not familiar. I believe learning languages enhances the quality of your life, helps you become a more rounded and open person and helps you understand other cultures. It’s stimulating, it’s interesting and it helps you to be better prepared for the workplace wherever you are because you’ve discovered that communication is vital to being an effective worker.

For many Project Trust volunteers, the experience of being placed outside their comfort zone is intensified by moving to a country with a very different language. Volunteers need to be able to communicate in order to integrate and be accepted by the community, as well as to make new friends and be effective contributors. Suddenly there is real motivation and an urgency to learn the language as it is truly needed.

Frustration can quickly set in when you are unable to say basic phrases such as “hello,” “please,” “thank you” etc. However, once you’ve learned those first few words, that’s when the fun starts.  People in the local community will be delighted you’ve started to learn their language, which will lead them to help you even more, accelerating the pace at which you learn. It reflects what Nelson Mandela said: “If you speak in English, you speak to another person’s head, if you speak in their own language you speak to their heart.”

A Patamona phrase book put together by a Project Trust volunteer

A Patamona phrase book put together by Project Trust volunteers

School pupils can often struggle to relate to examples of using foreign languages in business settings, but hearing about 18 year-olds who have had incredible adventures, helped by their use of a second language, is really inspiring.  Project Trust volunteers can talk about the transition from not enjoying “academic” language learning, to demonstrating the fantastic practical applications of languages.

We also use examples of Project Trust volunteers to support language teachers. On Monday we were with a group of teachers looking at how to incorporate Global Citizenship into the new Higher. We suggested they could create listening or reading exercises based on examples of Project Trust volunteers. For example, it could be two volunteers who are in a Spanish-speaking country, discussing work they are doing. That way pupils practice a foreign language, see an exciting example of a young person using that language and learn about Global Citizenship.

We currently have a very exciting pilot programme with Project Trust called Language Linking, Global Thinking. Through the programme we’ve linked Project Trust volunteers and British Council foreign language assistants with primary and secondary schools in the central belt, mostly Stirling. The volunteers are committed to one visit to the school they are paired with before they go overseas and six contacts during their volunteering placement. The volunteer makes a final visit on their return to the UK. The Scottish government’s 1+2 policy means that all primary schools will have to start teaching a modern language from P1 and another modern language from P5 to P7 by 2020. The Language Linking, Global Thinking programme is a way in which we can support teachers’ delivery of the 1+2 policy and demonstrate to young pupils the incredible journey on which languages can take you.

If you want to find out more about the Language Linking, Global Thinking scheme, you can read this article published in the Herald and the case study of Project Trust volunteer Myrtle Breckenridge which accompanied it.