Position paper calls for consideration of non-standard and minority language varieties in supplementary school curriculum

Researchers at the University of Manchester’s Multilingual Manchester research unit and the University of Westminster have called for more consideration to be given to language variation and non-standard speech forms such as regional dialects in the programmes of community-based supplementary schools that teach heritage languages.

The researchers point out the importance of spoken varieties for cross-generation communication and verbal language skills in general. They argue that failure to take non-standard varieties into consideration can risk discouraging pupils from attending after-school language classes and can have an adverse affect on the transmission of heritage languages.

The position paper draws on a workshop that brought together researchers and practitioners in April 2019, co-organised by Multilingual Manchester and the University of Westminster with support from the Multilingual Communities strand of the AHRC-OWRI consortium ‘Cross-Language Dynamics: Re-Shaping Community’. It was authored by Prof Yaron Matras and Dr Petros Karatsareas, with input from Dr Çise Çavuşoğlu, Dr Rasha Soliman, and Dr Birgül Yılmaz.

The paper recommends teacher training modules to raise awareness of  sociolinguistic variation and equip teachers to deal with spoken varieties as part of the curriculum. It also calls on academics to engage with practitioners to raise public awareness of supplementary schools and to develop policies and pedagogical approaches to support them. The position paper can be accessed here.

International Mother Language Day event kick-starts partnership to celebrate Manchester’s language mosaic

On the occasion of International Mother Language Day 2020, the Multilingual Manchester research unit at the University of Manchester and Manchester Museum are kick-starting a partnership that will put language diversity firmly and permanently on the agenda of cultural institutions.

More than 200 languages are spoken in Manchester, and the city’s language mosaic is being recognised as one of its distinctive identity badges. The City of Manchester is celebrating International Mother Language Day for the third consecutive year, with events and exhibitions taking place at cultural venues across the city from 20–22 February. The full programme can be found here: http://www.manchestercityofliterature.com/international-mother-language-day/

Multilingual Manchester has been working since 2010 to study the city’s linguistic heritage and to guide citizens, communities and practitioners on the benefits of multilingualism. It has recently secured a large internal investment as part of the university’s Creative Manchester initiative, based in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures.

Manchester Museum is undergoing a transformation thanks to a £13 million project that will make it more inclusive, imaginative and relevant to the city’s diverse communities. It will feature a South Asia Gallery, a Chinese Culture Gallery and a new Exhibition Hall. The museum will mirror the city’s language diversity through practice and content, offering a space to reflect, perform and celebrate multilingu

alism, a platform for discussion and hub for encounters among individuals, groups and communities. It will connect to similar initiatives internationally, and lead other local cultural institutions to engage with languages.

The joint programme is being launched at an event at Manchester Museum on Thursday, 20 February, from 6:00-8:30pm, titled ‘How Do You Say ‘Our Kid’ in Kurdish? & Other Questions.’

It will be an evening of games, crafts and activities, with opportunities to explore the city’s languages through interactive artwork, performances, films, Q+A sessions, and more. Most activities are suited for adults and children.

Entry is free and there is no need to register.

MLM partners with Manchester City Council to map diversity of Manchester’s languages

We are delighted to be working with Manchester City Council to support citizens’ engagement with language diversity in an exciting new project, after Manchester Libraries won funding from the Engaging Libraries Programme.

The programme, which is run by The Carnegie UK Trust, the Wellcome Trust, and the Wolfson Foundation, brings 14 research projects at universities into the heart of local communities, using libraries to encourage and share learning.

You can read more about the project here.

European Day of Languages: Researchers call for a Multilingual Cities Movement, as first major European city launches language diversity policy

As Europe celebrates the annual European Day of Languages on 26 September, researchers and practitioners have issued a call for a Multilingual Cities Movement.

The initiating signatories, representing various university projects, community initiatives, and individuals, are reaching out to academics, students, professionals, local government, and community activists to join forces to celebrate and harness multilingualism and language diversity.

The group’s statement of aims identifies linguistic diversity as a source of connection and enrichment. It seeks to build productive and sustainable collaboration with practitioners, communities and local government into universities’ teaching and research agendas, and to contribute to developing partnerships beyond the academy. The initiative emerged in the aftermath of a conference on university public engagement with urban multilingualism, hosted by the Multilingual Manchester research unit earlier this year.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Professor Yaron Matras said:

“There is no single model of how universities and non-academic bodies should collaborate to build positive and productive approaches to linguistic diversity, but there are many examples of good practice. We have formulated some principles as a networking platform, and we encourage others to sign up and to share their experiences with others”.


Meanwhile, Manchester City Council has released a policy report on linguistic diversity, the first of its kind in any major European city. The report links protection and harnessing of linguistic pluralism to the council’s strategic aims of supporting a city that is skilled, diverse, equitable, internationally connected and economically strong, and announces a plan to strengthen the city’s ‘multilingual offer’. The report also flags the contribution made by the University of Manchester’s Multilingual Manchester research unit to studying and raising pubic awareness of linguistic diversity in the city.


Professor Matras added:

“We are proud to have made a key contribution to this city council report, which is the first of its kind in the UK and in Europe. This collaboration is an excellent example of what our initiative for a Multilingual Cities Movement is about.”

New student reports now online

Visit our Reports archive to read the latest MLM student reports! The reports focus on various aspects of Manchester’s multilingualism, including:
– studies on African languages in Manchester, exploring speakers’ language preferences across domains, language maintenance practices, as well as strategies to acquire and improve English alongside the maintenance of African languages;
– online and offline language practices of Manchester-based users
– research on linguistic landscapes in Greater Manchester neighbourhoods, looking at communicative and emblematic uses of written language, people’s “mental maps” of local linguistic landscapes, and changes in the landscape across time.

You can read the new reports in full here.


Event at Houses of Parliament: Recognising Our Citizens’ Many Languages

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.

Find out more about the event here.