Study highlights language diversity
Sept. 22, 2005

By Laura Elston

Children in England speak at least 300 different languages between them, a study showed today.

But the educational value and business potential of such diversity is being overlooked.

CILT, the national centre for languages, found that the UK’s linguistic map was changing, and the number of community languages being used – ones other than English and Welsh – was on the increase.

The examination of language trends also showed that in Scotland, 104 languages are spoken among 11,000 youngsters, while in Wales, 8,000 children amassed at least 98 languages.

Areas traditionally associated with a small range of languages are becoming more diversified.

Five years ago in Wrexham, few languages were spoken in schools, but now there at least 25 across the local authority, including Portuguese, Polish, Tagalog and Shona, CILT said.

In the Scottish Borders, Russian and Portuguese-speaking families have moved to the area to work in the fishing industry.

Exam chiefs expressed concern last month over sharp drops in the number of GCSE students taking modern languages, which is no longer compulsory after the age of 14.

But CILT called for schools to harness the linguistic talents that already exist, such as knowledge of Panjabi and Somali.

It said that Urdu, Turkish, Chinese, Bengali and Arabic were likely to be on the list of languages of most benefit to the economy, trade and international relations in the 21st century.

Isabella Moore, director of CILT, said: “This summer business leaders drew attention to our country’s need for capability in a wider range of languages.

“Yet 9% of our secondary school children and over 10% of primary children already speak another language at home, and many more have one in their family background.

“By encouraging students to develop their existing knowledge we will be building up an important skills base, as well as raising educational achievement.”

Joanna McPake of Stirling University, who led the research study, said: “There is a huge body of research testifying to the benefits of bilingualism for educational development.

“Yet our survey has shown that schools do not always appreciate the value of maintaining and developing language skills other than English.

“In addition, both mainstream and complementary schools underestimate the practical value of other languages for students’ future careers.”

Ethnic minority communities currently teach 61 different languages, while mainstream primary and secondary schools offer at least 35 languages either as part of the curriculum or as after-hours provision.

The research warned that it is becoming more difficult for communities to help children study other languages, with second or third generation community speakers needing more help because some may not be fluent.

The increase in the number of languages in certain areas is due to factors such as local industries attracting people to new areas and the arrival of the children of refugees, asylum seekers and also economic migrants from different parts of the EU.