It is no secret that every area of the humanities is experiencing significant change. Questions concerning the coherence, identity, and purpose of modern languages are certainly the subject of a great deal of debate within the education sector.

This edition of Talking Humanities sets out to examine some of the issues that are of most pressing concern to those working in the sector. In the opening post (We have to deploy modern languages in confronting our challenges), Professors Charles Burdett and Claire Gorrara talk about the nature of the challenges that the disciplinary area faces – from patterns in recruitment to reform of the curriculum – and how it is attempting to address those challenges. In the posts that follow, contributors reflect on different elements of the subject area and how it is pursuing reform.

Professor Li Wei (‘Community’ or ‘modern’ languages? Isn’t it time for change?) argues that the UK needs urgently to develop a global perspective on language learning and to value more highly the languages that members of different communities in the country already use. An essential step in this direction is, he argues, to reconsider the arbitrary classifications that define some languages as ‘modern’ and others as ‘community’ languages.

Academics from the Decolonising MLAC Working Group (Resisting systemic racism by decolonising modern languages) discuss the initiatives that the group has pursued in Durham’s School of Modern Languages and Cultures as a means of building resistance to racism within higher education. They consider how the group has brought together voices, especially those of undergraduates and postgraduates, to address its key areas of intervention.

Oliver Hopwood (Modern languages gale warning – er, more like a hurricane) talks about the difficulties that teachers of modern languages face within secondary education (regarding the content of the curriculum, restrictions on teachers’ time, the need for languages to appeal to more students) and argues that there needs to be wide-reaching reform throughout the sector.

Janice Carruthers (OWRI, strategy, partnerships and the future of modern languages) reflects on the role that the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s major funding scheme the Open World Research Initiative (OWRI) has played in demonstrating the importance of languages-led research in addressing the major issues of our time. She considers the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the sector and how it can build of the legacies of the OWRI projects.