Home Have Your Say Mike Byram - Durham University, UK

Mike Byram - Durham University, UK



The questions which appear at the end of the Scoping document are important and significance but also very varied in their nature.

Some of them can be answered by conceptual analysis and a statement of axiomatic principles based on an explicit ethical position e.g. the second part of:
How can we and why should we support language maintenance among minorities?

And possibly:
If there is multilingual elite, is there also a potentially excluded monolingual class? Why does this matter?

The majority of questions are however only resolvable by empirical research. The first step should be to establish what empirical research on for example:
If intercultural communication is so important, what effect does this have on people's access to wealth and opportunities?
Or:
How do languages impact on some of the key challenges for educational systems – quality, range, coherence, internationalism for example?

Unfortunately I guess that there will be little existing research to fall back on and such questions would need to be investigated from scratch

However some of the questions would need to be formulated in such a way that they become in principle researchable, for example:
What is the role of language in what has been described as the "educational arms race"?
Or:
Which languages particularly enhance intercultural communication? What does this mean for the relationships between languages and cultures?
Or:
What is the nature of multilingualism as an economic and social resource?

Some questions would need major projects over some years, for example:
What is the effect of multilingualism on communities and community cohesion? Are we seeing the emergence of new concepts of citizenship and social identity?

It seems to be assumed that many of the problems raised by a certain type of question which implies intervention, will be addressed by the education system, but there are other agencies which might be included more explicitly  - examples of questions of this type are:
Are there solutions to be found through "alternative" forms of communication – vivo ICT Bilingual?
Or:
How can we and why should we support language maintenance among minorities?

My suggestion is that some sorting of questions might be worthwhile so that speakers at the conference can either tell us what empirical answers they have or tell us what answers they have to conceptual/ ethical questions – or both.

Where there is likely to be little or no empirical response, the conference might address which questions it thinks are most urgent and/or important – not synonymous of course.

Maybe the conference should also clarify the relationship between the education system and other agencies in political and civil society – and determine the limits of what can be done by education.

Finally, I think the focus on foreign/second/additional languages needs to be widened to ‘language(s) of schooling’ (see Council of Europe project) because educational success – which assumedly has some causal relationship with social cohesion – depends on the language of schooling. Multilingualism as an economic resource can only develop if the language of schooling is developing in individuals in parallel. In this connection, too, we need to be clear about where languages are a symptom and where they are a cause. I was struck by Keith Ajegbo’s remark that white working class boys are the ones who are most affected by underachievement. We are back to the questions raised by Bernstein some decades ago.
 

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