[lg policy] Is English enough? UK language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Nov 7 17:14:10 UTC 2015

 Is English enough? UK language policy
last modified Nov 05, 2015 02:38 PM
A ground-breaking policy workshop aiming to break the “vicious circle of
monolingualism” in the UK was held at Cambridge University, featuring
representatives of government, education and key organisations including
the British Academy and the British Council.

A National Languages Policy workshop was held at Murray Edwards College in
Cambridge this week, supported by the University of Cambridge in
partnership with Speak to the Future and UCML. The aim of the event was to
map where the responsibility for language policy sits within UK government
and to promote joined-up thinking and greater dialogue between
policymakers, academic researchers, and practitioners.

The workshop, convened by Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett of Cambridge
University’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, and chaired
by Baroness Coussins, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on
Modern Languages and President of Speak to the Future, brought together
representatives from different Whitehall departments ranging from the
Ministry of Defence to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
as well as from  the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland, to examine the current situation in the UK regarding
languages, and discuss plans for the future.

In her introduction Baroness Coussins called for a “National Languages
Recovery Programme” to embed language skills in UK education, and ensure
that Britain is able to compete on the global stage.

Selected talks from the day have been made available to listen to online
via SoundCloud. For more information, see

The numbers of students taking a language at A level are down 28% since
1996 and over 40 UK universities have closed their language departments
since 2000. Susannah Poulton of the Department of UK Trade and Investment
estimated, based on research carried out by Cardiff University, that up to
£48 billion is lost by the UK every year in missed contracts due to a lack
of foreign language skills, in what has been described as the "vicious
circle of monolingualism".

However, as Professor Ayres-Bennet pointed out, “Despite the reduction in
the number of those becoming multilingual through formal education,
multilingualism is very strongly present in UK schools. Department for
Education statistics show that nearly one in five primary school pupils
have a first language other than English. The range of languages spoken by
these “heritage” and minority language speakers is much broader than those
traditionally taught, and could represent a significant skill-set for the

Presenters at the workshop focused not only on the educational and economic
advantages of being multilingual, but also its benefits for international
diplomacy and collaboration, and, especially in a military context,
conflict resolution and peace-building.

Professor Ayres-Bennett said:

“I hope that this workshop, and others like it in future, will lead to
greater collaboration between university researchers and language policy
professionals across the UK. We want to establish new channels of
communication through which policy-makers can tap into evidence-based
research to develop new approaches to language teaching and a coherent
strategy for promoting languages nationally”.

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