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UK Language Policy: Future Directions and Challenges

Dora Alexopoulou, Wendy Ayres-Bennett and Diana Sutton | 16 November 2017 | Dialogues Collection

Languages, Society and Policy (LSP) is born out of our conviction that insights from research in languages and linguistics have the potential to yield policies that can improve and transform the lives of individuals and communities and impact positively on society. We consider it our obligation as academics and stakeholders to identify those research insights and to communicate their relevance to policy makers, decision makers, and the wider public. This is the purpose of the LSP policy papers. However, even the most articulate communication of our research is unlikely to go far if it is not accompanied by an appreciation of the current UK wide landscape regarding language policy. Active engagement with current policy questions is necessary not only to identify the areas where our contributions are most needed and likely to have the most positive impact, but crucially, so that academics can become active partners in the shaping of language policy.

The LSP Dialogues aim to bring to focus key areas where language policy is needed and provide a forum for ideas and suggestions on how to move forward language policy across different domains and how research can contribute. We have chosen as our first theme UK Language Policy: Directions and Challenges which brings together five papers discussing language policy across different areas. As a collection, the papers highlight a paradox: language policy, or most often its absence, touches almost every aspect of the public sphere, from immigration and social cohesion to defence and security, international relations, cultural diplomacy as well as business and is, therefore, relevant across governments rather than the responsibility of a sole department, as argued by Wendy Ayres-Bennett. Yet, there is no co-ordinated approach across governments, a situation leading to a lack of coherence, inconsistencies in policies and missed opportunities, as Baroness Coussins demonstrates. Such lack of co-ordination makes it hard to address the language skills needed by business, as detailed by Bernardette Holmes, let alone nurture the linguistic talent and potential of immigrant children in education, as Diana Sutton outlines. Looking beyond the UK, the lack of a co-ordinated approach to language policy limits benefits from insights on linguistic and intercultural communication for international relations and crises, as suggested by Charles Forsdick. It is not difficult to see that all these aspects are interconnected: nurturing multilingualism in education will help address the needs of business and public sector services, and strengthen understanding and cohesion within communities in Britain. But no individual language policy for a particular domain will succeed if it is not part of a co-ordinated approach to language policy across all the domains, from education, to business, to health, to security and diplomacy. Each paper identifies priorities and offers suggestions that we hope will provide the first steps towards shaping a much-needed UK language policy and stimulating a wider dialogue.

Dialogue Papers in this Collection:

by Baroness Jean Coussins

In this article, Baroness Coussins, co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, outlines the current priorities for language policy in the UK, highlighting inconsistencies and fragmentation in approach, and making the case for coordination across government.

In this article, Wendy Ayres-Bennett, Principal Investigator of the MEITS (Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies) research project, argues for the urgent need for a national languages policy and for a more holistic and coherent approach towards languages across Whitehall and the devolved administrations.

In this article, Diana Sutton, Director of the Bell Foundation, explores the current policy and practice framework for supporting children with English as an Additional Language in the UK and how the available research evidence can be used to improve it.

In this article, Bernardette Holmes, Principal Investigator of Born Global, the British Academy policy project on languages and employability, reassesses the role of languages and intercultural understanding for Britain’s global position. It draws on the findings of the Born Global project and identifies the language skills that are most in demand now to establish new global relationships, and locates language skills firmly within the matrix of wider employability skills for the 21st century.

In this article, Charles Forsdick, AHRC Theme Leadership Fellow for ‘Translating Cultures’, presents the policy issues revealed and addressed by research carried out under the theme, and highlights the challenges and potential of ‘translating’ academic research to policymakers.


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