University researchers, teachers and leading politicians came together at the House of Commons on Wednesday 22 May, to call on policymakers to develop a comprehensive policy that recognises the UK as a multilingual society, and to ensure that provisions are made to protect the languages of all citizens. Speakers included Bernardette Holmes MBE of the Speak to the Future initiative, Pascale Vassie OBE of the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education, and Professor Jenny Cheshire FBA, who spoke on behalf of The British Academy.
The event, organised by Multilingual Manchester, highlighted that languages other than English are a vital part of the cultural heritage of many British citizens and residents. For many, they are an important skill, and an asset in developing professional careers.
In cities in particular, recognition of language diversity is key to ensure equal access to services, celebration of culture and traditions, and workforce skills to support development. Languages offer important channels through which to build bridges among communities and between nations.
Professor Yaron Matras from Multilingual Manchester called for the Office for National Statistics to revise the question on languages in the 2021 Census, to allow respondents to list more than one language that they use frequently or in the home. This would identify and record the wide range of languages spoken by UK citizens, and reflect the proportion of the current population with multilingual skills more accurately. Currently, the Census question only asks about a single ‘main language’ other than English and is intended to capture data on those who are not proficient in English.
The British Academy, who were also represented at the event, has released a statement backing the call to change the Census, saying that “the way the questions are currently asked arguably reflects a common assumption that monolingualism is the norm, dismissing the possibility of fluency in two or more languages.”
“The strength of being able to be multilingual – of being able to share languages – is overwhelmingly important” said Lord Blunkett of Brightside. “We should allow Census respondents to list multiple languages that they use frequently or in the home in order to obtain a better picture of the country’s multilingual reality – changing the question would help to shape provision, as well as rejoice in the languages around us.”
“Languages strengthen our society,” said Shadow Immigration Minister Afzal Khan MP, whose Manchester Gorton constituency is one of the most linguistically diverse in the country. “We need more support for supplementary schools, which provide an important service to promote skills and protect cultural heritage.”
As part of the event, Multilingual Manchester also launched a call for a Multilingual Cities Movement. You can read the call in full here.
Join us to celebrate the threads of language, faith and culture that are woven through Manchester life. Take part in open conversations in themed workshops, listen to multilingual prayers and readings from a range of religions, and enjoy choir and dance performances, as we look together at the bridges that language can help us to build across communities.
‘A Celebration of Faith and Language Diversity’ is an event co-hosted by Multilingual Manchester (The University of Manchester), Manchester Cathedral, We Stand Together and Faith Network for Manchester, with support from Creative Manchester (School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, The University of Manchester).
6:30pm-7pm: Welcome, exhibition of holy books and Multilingual Manchester’s interactive exhibition, light refreshments
7pm-8pm: Workshops (more information below)
8pm-9pm: Service and keynote speech by Rona Barbour (Storyteller), prayers and readings in a range of languages, live performances
Guests have the opportunity to attend two short, informal workshops, on themes related to languages in Manchester. When you click ‘register’, we will ask you to choose your two preferred workshops, from a total of six workshops that will be taking place at the same time around the Cathedral. Your first workshop will last for 20 minutes, then you will move on to your second workshop, before everyone comes back together for the service.
Each workshop will be led by a different person or group, who will kick-start the conversation; you are then encouraged to use the workshop as an open forum to discuss, ask questions and share your own experiences.
The workshop themes are:
1. Young Interpreters – Pupils from Burnage Academy will lead this workshop and explain how they are celebrating their language skills at school
2. The Multilingual Museum – What are the challenges and opportunities for cultural institutions in a city of 200 languages? Staff from Manchester Museum will share an exciting insight into their work
3. Language, Religion and Scripture – This workshop will explore the role that language plays in practising religion and ‘accessing’ faith, and speakers will share perspectives from a range of religions
4. Language Biographies – Listen to personal accounts of individual language journeys, as a variety of speakers describe how they use and how they feel about languages, in the context of their own families, jobs and lives
5. Manchester Deaf Centre – Learn more about Manchester Deaf Centre’s work, British Sign Language and the experiences of the deaf community in Manchester
6. The Benefits of Bilingualism – Dr Julio Villa-García (The University of Manchester) will introduce what research says on the benefits and opportunities that languages can bring
Please let us know which two workshops you would like to attend when registering on Eventbrite.
For more information or if you have any questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
While enrolment in Modern Languages courses at secondary school and university has been in decline for more than a decade, the number of pupils attending supplementary (weekend) language schools is rising. Yaron Matras, who leads the Multilingual Communities strand of the AHRC-OWRI consortium Cross-Language Dynamics: Re-Shaping Community, calls for a research and public engagement strategy that embraces community language initiatives, and for a national language policy that gives more attention to the domestic arena. Read the full text here.