British Council India played host to the 11th International Language & Development Conference in New Delhi from 18-20 November, the first time this prestigious biennial event was held in this country. The event was the largest and the most diverse of the conference series thus far, attracting 266 registered participants and with a programme of more than 60 sessions. Nearly 30 countries were represented, from Afghanistan to South Africa, Bhutan to New Zealand. Feedback from across the board suggests that the conference was a resounding success, bringing together researchers, policy-makers and practitioners from a wide variety of contexts.
Learning from diversity, learning through languages
Learning from leading a diverse team from across India, with generous inputs from colleagues in the wider South Asia region (such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh) was one of my own substantive take-aways from the project as the senior manager responsible for planning and delivery of the conference. Just the core conference team of six of us had over a dozen languages amongst us. A colleague has documented how meticulously we planned for and dealt with various Equality, Diversity and Inclusiveness (EDI) challenges, including providing for simultaneous translation in Hindi, Mandarin and Amharic for presenters.
Chairing the session where we launched the conference proceedings from Sri Lanka and discussed multilingualism from the perspectives of social cohesion and national narratives resonated at a deep personal level. My parents were born in country that no longer exists (East Pakistan, now Bangladesh; the trigger for the conflict being a language-related issue) and I was raised in a province in India that is now carved into another one (south Bihar has become Jharkhand). I grew up with Bengali as a home language, Hindi as the language of the playground and school. Like most middle class aspirational households (that too of ‘refugees’ who had clawed their way back to a life of dignity on the back of educational and professional success) English was a constant presence at home, and also in school. These issues of being caught out in narratives of displacement and political reconfiguration came back to me vividly as the discussants from Sri Lanka discussed the role languages played in the conflict and then reconciliation in the island nation.
Partnering for success
The conference was supported by the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Kaushalya Yojana of the Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India; UNESCO South Asia cluster office based in New Delhi; Research Councils UK; Jawaharlal Nehru University’s National Multilingual Education Resource Consortium and the Digital Empowerment Foundation.
An intellectual feast
The main theme of the conference was Multilingualism and Development and the three broad sub-themes were Multilingualism and the Metropolis; Language, Technology, Multi-literacies; and Multilingualism, Marginalisation, Empowerment. These issues not only reflect the rapidly changing reality of India and the wider South Asian area, but almost every other developing country and, in some cases, even the so-called developed countries.
Presentations included plenary addresses by Indian and international experts, workshops, a book launch, a debate and a ministerial panel discussion. Around 30 of the presentations were by international speakers, discussing their work in a total of 20 different countries, from Sierra Leone to China, from Myanmar to Denmark and from Pakistan to South Africa.
Primetime coverage on national TV
An interesting highlight of the conference was an in-studio panel discussion on NDTV, one of India’s premier television channels, with three plenary speakers at the conference – Ajit Mohanty, James Simpson, Osama Manzar and Alison Barrett – on the issue of linguistic diversity in India and its role in education. The half an hour show was aired on Friday 20 November at 6.30 pm, a prime-time slot, and is now available on for viewing on this link: http://social.ndtv.com/mindspace/permalink/309816
Expanding the conference reach through digital and social media
The plenary sessions and many parallel session were webcasted and recorded. These recordings are now available to view on YouTube.
Through Facebook posts, re-posts and comments, the conference reached out to approximately 700,000 and #LangDev2015 trended on Twitter for the duration of the conference, with over 2000 tweets and re-tweets with approximately 600,000 impressions. The involvement of Digital Empowerment Foundation as partners and a well-thought out internal social media plan meant huge boost for the conference in the social media world. Several colleagues took turns to blog live from the conference sessions and these blogs can be accessed here.
Initial feedback from participants has been uniformly positive, with 95.5 per cent of feedback survey respondents reporting that they believed it was a high quality event and that they acquired new knowledge and skills from taking part. Eighty three per cent of participants indicated that they believe the discussions from the conference will directly impact on future research in the area of language and development. We will continue to track the conference’s impact over the coming months.
We have had numerous emails of support following the event, including the comments below.
“Thank you for the great Conference with a galaxy of intellectuals and scholars. I am looking forward to future action.” Justice Sonam Tobgye, former Chief Justice, Chairman of Royal Research Council, Bhutan; Delegate.
“I wanted to thank you all once again for a most wonderful conference. I learnt a lot, met a great many stimulating people, and came away with inspirations.” Dr Anuradha Kanniganti, Lecturer, National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations, Paris, France; Speaker.
“It was really a remarkable event where we learnt some in-depth research on MLE, education, language preservation and promotion, development, digital media and the endangered languages, English as Medium of Instruction and some good case studies round the world.” Mr Zubair Torwali, Executive Director, Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi IBT, Pakistan; Speaker.
“Thank you for hosting an excellent conference. I, for one, benefitted immensely from the discussions, the plenaries, the presentations and the feedback I received on my own presentation. I look forward to furthering the conversations and discussing possible areas of collaboration with the British Council in the coming days.” Dr Padmini Boruah, Associate Professor in ELT, Gauhati University, Assam, India; Speaker.
“My thanks again for an outstanding conference, which did indeed foster and strengthen important collaborations. Warmest congratulations to you and your team for a memorable and important event.” Dr. Bonny Norton, Professor, Dept Language & Literacy Education, University of British Columbia, Canada; Speaker.
”Thanks for a great conference, great learning for all of us. We may explore possibilities of launching a large scale research on how multilingualism operates in Asian and African contexts.” Dr Ramanujam Meganathan, Department of Education in Languages, NCERT, New Delhi, India; Speaker.
“[The conference] was simply awesome. Debates, discussions, ideas, energy, willingness, and most of all hope – all were visible. In fact some of our colleagues just did not want to miss any moment ” Osama Manzar, CEO, Digital Empowerment Foundation, India. Plenary speaker and one of the conference partners.
The conference was just the beginning of a wider conversation we intend to have with all our partners. We envision an ongoing programme of engagement led by partners and participants as a result of the discussions and debates that took place during the three days. Our conversations on multilingualism and its role in development have just begun. Watch this space.
Resources and blogs
1. Recordings of sessions and interviews: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUwf3cy5FZzgBPbUCLKj_KGy9ezdXwKRy
2. Blogs on the British Council India website: http://blog.britishcouncil.org.in/category/language-development-conference-2015/
Post by Debanjan Chakrabarti
The author heads British Council India’s English language policy, research and publications work and was the lead manager for the 11th Language & Development Conference in New Delhi. He can be reached at email@example.com and his twitter handle is @dcfrombc