Why are you running a project that promotes multilingualism?

Today’s blog post is written by Aneta Quraishy, our Language Rich Europe Project Manager, who is based in British Council Berlin. Please read on to find out about her experiences on working in a project which promotes multilingualism.

OK, I may have my personal reasons for getting involved like being multilingual myself and not being able to imagine living a different reality or not having a bookshelf of books written in Czech, English, Spanish and French and revelling in the fact that I can reach for any of these and understand them all without much difficulty nowadays.

However, professionally, as Senior Project Manager of Language Rich Europe I often get asked by contacts, friends and family why the British Council is promoting multilingualism and simply not just focussing on English teaching and exams. My direct answer would be that we are a cultural relations organisation and the encouragement of diversity in language learning, acquisition and support of multilingualism should be at the heart of any such endeavour. The British Council should be and is committed to building long term relationships and trust between people in the UK and other countries and this does not simply happen by imposing English onto them.

The overall objectives of Language Rich Europe are:

  • to facilitate the exchange of good practice in promoting intercultural dialogue and social inclusion through language teaching and learning;
  • to promote European cooperation in developing language policies and practices across several education sectors and broader society;
  • to raise awareness of the EU and Council of Europe recommendations for promoting language learning and linguistic diversity across Europe.

Ironically all this came even more to my mind when I read a recent Guardian article by Robert Phillipson (Linguistic imperialism alive and kicking, 16 March), which conveyed concerns of internationally driven efforts to strengthen the learning of English and claimed that,

“British policies in Africa and Asia have aimed at strengthening English rather than promoting multilingualism, which is the social reality. Underlying British ELT have been key tenets – monolingualism, the native speaker as the ideal teacher, the earlier the better etc – which the same book diagnoses as fundamentally false. They underpin linguistic imperialism.”

Although this may to an extent seem true outside Europe, I firmly believe that projects like Language Rich Europe can help to tackle such a mind-set and reality. English will naturally continue to be a dominating second language around the globe. We should not try and oppose this reality and surely a supply of well-trained English language teachers and professionals will do nobody any harm. However, English needs to be promoted alongside other national, foreign, regional/minority and immigrant languages.

Through LRE we aim to promote greater cooperation between policy makers and practitioners in Europe in developing good policies and practices for multilingualism. Such polices will ensure that languages and cultural exchange continue to be promoted and encouraged at school, university and in broader society. We believe that this is essential if Europeans of all ages are to develop a broader international outlook and if Europe as a whole is to position itself successfully to do business with the world’s emerging economic powers in the 21st century.

John Knagg, British Council Senior Adviser Learning and Teaching responded to Phillipson with a letter,

“Governments worldwide want better access to English for their citizens to improve education, work and social mobility prospects – and they come to us for advice and support. While part of our mission is to develop a wider knowledge of English in the world, we do this within a wider aim of promoting the advancement of education.

English should add to a child’s linguistic heritage, not replace it. This is afterall, how we see foreign languages being taught in British schools.

Most of the 10 million teachers of English around the world are bilingual or multilingual non-native English speakers. Multilingualism gives people great advantages in their lives and their jobs, and we promote it as a value. Phillipson quotes his experience from before 1992 – the reality is different.”

You can read the full letter Multilingualism works on this website.

One thought on “Why are you running a project that promotes multilingualism?

  1. Both the British Council staff who react to my short piece in the Guardian Weekly, John Knagg and Aneta Quraishy, write much about multilingual education that I warmly endorse. On the other hand what I was reacting to, recent analysis from Namibia and Pakistan, and a report by Save the Children, is not comparable to the learning of foreign languages in Europe. I am reacting to misuse of English as a medium of instruction, a very different educational issue. A second, more fundamental question is whether the English Language Teaching profession (along with its academic twin, applied linguistics) is well qualified enough to contribute to multilingual/bilingual education. Monolingualism, and native speakerism are still foundational principles of ELT. Whereas the foreign language teaching profession – for instance in Scandinavia, but also foreign language learning in the UK – differs fundamentally. British ‘aid’ does not have a good record.

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