Springboard for Talent - “Monolingualism Does Not Guarantee Peace or Cohesion”

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Dec 14, 2017
by Louise Hallman
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Springboard for Talent - “Monolingualism Does Not Guarantee Peace or Cohesion”

Participants discuss the role language can play in making societies more cohesive and peaceful Participants of Salzburg Global session Springboard for Talent: Language Learning and Integration in a Globalized World

Speaking a dominant language either in a local, national or global context can open up a world of opportunities. Conversely, not speaking a dominant language can hinder one’s prospects, leaving people feeling marginalized. But monolingualism should not be the goal.

Panelists on the second day of Springboard for Talent: Language Learning and Integration in a Globalized World, examined the role of language acquisition in increasing social cohesion, sharing examples of where language policy had helped and hindered.

Australia formerly imposed a policy demanding new migrants speak English on arrival or be denied entry. This has since changed: today, the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) provides free language tuition to all who need it, better ensuring that new migrants can participate socially and economically. “The state has the responsibility to provide the linguistic means to integrate,” remarked on Fellow, urging Europe and the US to emulate the program.

While encouraging the learning of one dominant language can help build a sense of integration and shared cultural identity, mother tongue suppression can also give rise to greater conflicts. International Mother Language Day is held on February 21 in recognition of that date in 1952 when students in Bangladesh were killed for protesting for the right to use their mother tongue of Bengali instead of Urdu, the official language.

In Abkhazia, the roots of its conflict with Georgia can be found in the suppression of its language and identity. However, when it finally broke away from Georgia, the local language lacked some vocabulary and constructs needed to be fully used in all official capacities.

Children who lack instruction in their mother tongue often fall behind academically. 230 million children worldwide are unable to read by Grade 4; many of these students are from linguistically marginalized communities.

In communities where there are many languages, imposing one language may not be necessary. A school in Australia serving refugee children from across South Asia found the students would blend Farsi, Dari, Urdu, Hindi and Tamil to communicate rather than using the basic English they were learning.

“Academics are not usually activists,” admitted one panelist, but this is often where language policy experts find themselves as their research can help secure social justice for marginalized communities. “We need more activism!"


The session, Springboard for Talent: Language Learning and Integration in a Globalized World is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series  Education for Tomorrow’s World. The session is being held in partnership with ETS, the Qatar Foundation and Microsoft. This project was also supported by The Erste Foundation. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session, follow #SGSedu on Twitter and Instagram.