Tag Archives: multilingualism

Multiple perspectives on multilingualism

Seventeen of the scheduled languages are featured on Indian rupee banknotes

India boasts one of the largest number of languages for any country on earth, with 22 languages awarded official status and referred to as ‘scheduled languages’. English is termed an ‘associate official language’. Depending on how they are counted (and who is doing the counting) there are as many as 6600 other languages spoken and used across the country – some by very small percentages of the population which can still equate to large numbers in a country of 1.2 billion people.

The British Council is well-known for its work relating to the English language, including working with teachers to improve the way that it is taught within education systems. Our position is to support the development of English as a skill alongside the development of learners’ mother tongues and other national languages. To this end, we actively support research into multilingualism and English as a medium of instruction in order to facilitate a shared understanding of what works in practice and where there are significant challenges. This has been realised in several ways in India, including by hosting a roundtable event on multilingualism in 2014, hosting the Language and Development Conference in Delhi in 2015 on the theme of multilingualism and development and most recently through a partnership on a research project initiated by the University of Cambridge and the University of Reading in the UK.

This project, Multilingualism and multiliteracy: raising learning outcomes in challenging contexts in primary schools across India was recently launched through a consultation event at British Council Delhi. Alongside the team from the two UK universities, led by Professor Ianthi Tsimpli and including Professor Jeanine Treffers-Daller and Professor Theodoros Marinis, co-investigators from key institutions in India, Dr Survana Alladi from Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences and Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay from the English and Foreign Languages University Hyderabad, and representatives of other partner organisations also attended. This breadth of representation from different sectors, cultures and organisations led to a rich discussion on the issues surrounding multilingualism in India and the impact that this can have on learning.

These questions will continue to be explored through the research study, focusing on young learners in Bihar, Hyderabad and Delhi. In particular, the project seeks to contribute to the body of knowledge around how different mediums of instruction can impact on literacy, numeracy and higher level cognitive skills. The study will also examine the extent to which geographic and socioeconomic factors affect development in these areas. Furthermore, the research project includes a strong focus on capacity building for all involved – including a network of research assistants and PhD students – and seeks to drive impact through a range of dissemination events and channels as the research gets underway. The project will run from 2016–2020.

Watch this space for further updates.

Back row (from left to right): Rajarshi Singh, Pratham; Prof Ganesh Devy (People’s Linguistic Survey of India); Prof Minati Panda (Jawaharlal Nehru University); Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay (EFL-U); Prof Ianthi Tsimpli (Univ of Cambridge); Prof Jeanine Treffers-Daller.  Front row (from left to right): Prof Theo Marinis; Prof Ajit Mohanty (retired from JNU); Prof Rama Mathew (Delhi University)

Back row (from left to right): Rajarshi Singh, Pratham; Prof Ganesh Devy (People’s Linguistic Survey of India); Prof Minati Panda (Jawaharlal Nehru University); Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay (EFL-U); Prof Ianthi Tsimpli (Univ of Cambridge); Prof Jeanine Treffers-Daller.
Front row (from left to right): Prof Theo Marinis; Prof Ajit Mohanty (retired from JNU); Prof Rama Mathew (Delhi University)
Also present but not pictured: Dr Vasanta Duggirala (retired from Osmania University, Hyderabad); Dr Dhir Jhingran (Language and Learning Foundation); Dr Suvarna Alladi (Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences), Debanjan Chakrabarti and Amy Lightfoot (British Council India).

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‘Communicative vulnerability’ in healthcare delivery

Mind the Gap: ‘Communicative Vulnerability’ and the Mediation of Linguistic/ Cultural Diversity in Healthcare Delivery – plenary by Professor Srikant Sarangi at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

The conference so far has discussed multilingualism in education systems, but Professor Srikant Sarangi session helped us to broaden this discussion to other domains – from the classroom to the clinic.

Srikant Sarangi, Professor in Humanities and Medicine and Director of the Danish Institute of Humanities and Medicine (DIHM) at Aalborg University, Denmark

Srikant Sarangi, Professor in Humanities and Medicine and Director of the Danish Institute of Humanities and Medicine (DIHM) at Aalborg University, Denmark

Professor Sarangi started by acknowledging the relevance of discussions around multilingualism beyond education in the areas of healthcare and the current refugee crisis. The linguistic and cultural diversity has cost implications for health care professionals. He stressed that in ‘super diverse societies’, the objective is to maximise access without the help of formal or informal mediators.

Sarangi then talked about how in the European context, healthcare given by a ‘foreigner’ is perceived as poor quality and as substituting ‘mainstream’ healthcare. He identified these scenarios as evidence of the need for multi-cultural and multilingual communication research and training.

Sarangi discussed the ethical vulnerability of healthcare professionals and how mediation can sometimes leading to negative consequences. He acknowledges racism and discrimination among overseas healthcare professionals and states that legal action and judicial reviews have started to emerge against European mainstream health care bodies. Language clearly has a role to play in the construction and mediation of these situations.

Sarangi concluded by recommending questioning, training and assessments rather than stereotyping differences. He highlighted the need to raise awareness about inter-cultural interaction and stressed the importance of research in clinical practice. He also was clear that there is much that we know about learner-centred teaching which can be translated and transferred to the healthcare context.

Watch plenary speaker Srikant Sarangi’s session here:

Plenary speaker Srikant Sarangi’s interview can be viewed here:
Post by: Radhika Gholkar
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in West India

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Multilingualism in Africa: marginalisation and empowerment

Multilingualism in Africa: Marginalisation and Empowerment - Plenary by Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne, University of Oslo

Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne, University of Oslo

So why EMI? And, finally for the day, a speaker who feel strongly that EMI Is not appropriate for Africa – and nor is it good for English. Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne expressively articulated many concepts of which I’d been not very articulately aware when working in East Africa: that Africa is not ‘English-speaking’ or ‘French-speaking’ (the extent to which it is has much to do with missionary work), that English is only to a limited extent a medium of instruction and policies are often complex and the idea of L1 and L2 in Africa doesn’t make much sense. Three quarters of economic activity in Africa requires African languages.

I was fascinated by the discussion of two North Namibian languages which are basically the same but are transliterated in different ways because of the influence of Finnish and German missionaries. The sheer scale of Africa means ignoring its diversity is a big mistake – although I was surprised that twelve to fifteen African languages would be enough for communication across Africa to take place. But Africa also presents many examples of how not to impose English and how it’s owned by the ‘English knowing caste’ and the need to increase the status of national languages.

Post by: Andy Keedwell
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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Multilingualism, Education, English and Development: Whose Development?

Multilingualism, Education, English and Development: Whose Development? - Plenary by Professor Ajit Mohanty at the 11th Language and Development Conference, 2015

Professor Ajit Mohanty with Alisher Umarov

Professor Ajit Mohanty with Alisher Umarov

Alisher Umarov, (Chief of Education and Programme Specialist, UNESCO) the Chair of the session, kept the expectant audience entertained and informed with is dry wit while technology issues were solved at the start of the plenary. Professor Ajit Mohanty framed his talk identifying the key issue as access to development, opportunity and success, and that this access is usually controlled by language, with English perceived by many as the gatekeeper to success.

Professor Mohanty outlined the impact of a hierarchical structure of languages, and how these layers put English and major regional languages at the top of the hierarchy, with local indigenous languages disadvantaged and marginalised, entering a cycle of neglect. He explained that in India, EMI schools are almost always private, and therefore link between class and social status is directly related to school fees. The rise of low cost EMI private schools, which he labelled as ‘Doom schools’, are on the rise, with lower socio-economic classes making great sacrifices (5-10 per cent of their income) to send children to schools that achieve very little education, apart from rote learning and memorisation of phrases and texts. The wide held belief is that EMI schools offer a better quality education, however Mohanty provided research evidence that showed that children learning through Mother Tongue medium at lower primary levels are more successful than EMI schools in all subjects, and that when English is introduced in Grade 4 or 5 as a subject, their English proficiency is the same by grade 9. In Orissa, for example, out of the 22 languages identified, education is now being provided through 19 of these languages and research shows these children are doing better than children receiving their education through English or even Odia. English, he stated, benefits the privileged and discriminates against the disadvantaged, and children from low income and marginalised communities who study through EMI and worship the ‘English Goddess’ neither learn English nor get a proper education.

Following this point, Geetha Durairajan asked whether English can be viewed as a ‘healer’ language rather than a ‘killer’ language. Professor Mohanty explained that English can lead to diminishing of linguistic diversity, but within a multilingual framework, English does have a key role to play when it is founded on strong mother tongue development. Our children, he said, need to be multi-lingual, and education is a place where they learn about their world through their mother tongue, and learn English as a subject that can provide access to so much. The key is that English is learnt and used on a strong foundation which he believes is best achieved through teaching in the children’s mother tongue.

Post by: Simon Etherton
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in South India

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