Rebecca Tipton, opening remarks at Manchester Talks Many Languages event

21 February 2017


The Lord Mayor of the City of Manchester

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to this evening’s event ‘Manchester Talks Many Languages’ on a day that we also celebrate International Mother Language Day.

For those of you unfamiliar with the background to International Mother Language Day, you will be interested to hear that it has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999 and the date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were killed in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.

In promoting the event the UN describes languages as ‘the most powerful instruments for preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage’. It believes that the promotion of all mother tongues ‘will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue’.

This Day and this evening’s event is an opportunity to come together and celebrate Manchester’s linguistic and cultural diversity. Manchester indeed talks many languages…around 200 according to the most recent estimates, and the city has the densest multilingual population for its size in the UK.

In the room this evening we have participants from a wide range of organisations and institutions who make a valued contribution to the city’s linguistic and cultural diversity. From those who are teaching new languages to the next generation, to those supporting the maintenance of the mother language through supplementary schools, library services, and those supporting communication through translation and interpreting, and speech therapy to ensure access to vital services and participation in wider society. Welcome to you all.

My name is Dr Rebecca Tipton and I will be chairing this evening’s discussions. I’m a Lecturer in Interpreting and Translation at the University of Manchester and have a background as a freelance translator and interpreter, working with some of the city’s residents whose limited language proficiency can make them very vulnerable. I am proud of the long links between the University and the City Council’s Translation Service, links that we continue to develop as new challenges emerge in interlingual and intercultural communication.

You will no doubt be aware that as a nation the decline in modern language study is never far from the headlines, usually when GCSE and A level results are published each year. However, these headlines reflect only a small part of the nation’s multilingualism and rich linguistic heritage. For university language departments the decline in language learning in schools increasingly raises questions about the role of the university in enhancing linguistic diversity, not only in supporting scientific, cultural and educational exchange across cultures and borders, but also more locally in city life.

As part of their civic mission, the universities represented here this evening reaffirm their commitment to engaging with organisations and institutions in the City of Manchester, supporting social goals through relevant and targeted research, and acting as a broker for dialogue between relevant policy makers, service users and service providers. Our students, through their dedicated societies, entrepreneurial and voluntary activities are more than ever before helping to sustain and improve community links, and contribute to linguistic and cultural diversity. We honour and celebrate their contributions here this evening. We also honour and celebrate the young people more widely across the city in their efforts to learn and maintain languages in the family.

As we move to our panel discussion, I would like to welcome and thank the panelists this evening.

Cllr. Luthfur Rahman, Councillor for Longsight and Executive Member for Culture & Leisure

Dr Isabelle Vanderschanden, Manchester Metropolitan University

Marta Niblett, Polish School, Manchester

Rachael Tuckley, Speech and Language Therapist

Ruth Crowe, NHS Speech and Language Therapist

Elena Jones, Regional Representative for Talk English, Manchester Adult Education Service

Professor Yaron Matras, University of Manchester

[Short opening statements delivered by the Lord Mayor of the City of Manchester and Dr Zahoor Ahmed, Pakistani Consul General]

This evening’s discussions will begin with a general introduction by each panel member, followed by a discussion of the following questions, and questions and comments from the audience:

  • What are the priorities and pressures in the multilingual city for your organisation / the people you work with?
  • How has your organisation promoted the benefits of multilingualism and intercultural understanding, and what impact, if any, has this had on local communities?
  • How can the various constituencies and communities of the city of Manchester make the most of its linguistic diversity to support innovations in education, culture, science, industry and technology?