Springboard for Talent - Valuing Language Learning in a Globalized World

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Dec 13, 2017
by Louise Hallman
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Springboard for Talent - Valuing Language Learning in a Globalized World

Participants consider the value of language learning and its impact across the world From left to right - Tony Capstick, Joseph Lo Bianco, Michael T. Nettles, Gabrielle Hogan-Brun and Loredana Polezzi speaking at Salzburg Global Seminar

As they introduced themselves at the start of the latest Salzburg Global Seminar session, Springboard for Talent: Language Learning and Integration in a Globalized World, it was clear that the 50 Fellows gathered for the five-day program spoke many languages and understood the value of doing so. But why is learning a language so important?

This was the one of the questions facing the opening panel as they “set the scene” and considered language learning and language policy through the varying lenses of recognizing its economic value, resolving ethnolinguistic conflicts, enhancing transnational and transcultural understanding, and strengthening cultural resilience for migrant populations (both forced and otherwise).

While the value of learning languages may be apparent to those gathered in Salzburg, convincing policymakers, communities, parents, and even the learners themselves of that value can remain a challenge in many contexts.

To address that challenge, following inputs from the panelists, the Fellows gathered in small groups to establish their first “headlines” that will help to frame the Salzburg Statement, to be co-written throughout the week and published on February 21 – International Mother Language Day.

To gain the support of communities, families and learners in recognizing the value of language learning, “start early” was the key piece of advice.

Schools should be encouraged to accommodate linguistic diversity, and establish reciprocities among different language speakers to encourage both formal and informal language learning. Increasing linguistic diversity of teachers would help in this regard.

At the policy level, recognizing that state education system language policies can be destructive and distracting, Fellows urged for a flexible language policy, seeing multiple languages as a resource to enhance, not a problem to be solved. As language learning is frequently about power, leading some languages (such as English) to be valued higher than others, they encouraged a de-emphasizing of English as the default second language of bilingualism.

With regards to business and economics, Fellows acknowledged that there is currently a disconnect between global trade ambitions and the provision of effective language learning, and called for the embrace of the economic benefits of linguistic diversity within companies.

Fellows were left with much food for thought for the next days’ discussions, which will consider language policy, social cohesion, the role of technology, multilingualism and economic dynamism, and addressing the Sustainable Development Goals.

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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.