January 17, 2017 at 10:33PM

The government is being urged to create more opportunities for British people to learn languages such as Polish, Urdu and Punjabi as a means of improving social cohesion in local communities.

Recent inquiries looking into obstacles to social integration in the UK have highlighted the importance of immigrants learning English to enable them to integrate and engage fully in society.

Now Cambridge professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett is calling for British people to be encouraged to learn community languages, particularly in areas where there are high numbers of residents who speak these languages, to build on social cohesion.

Ayres-Bennett, who is professor of French philology and linguistics and is a lead investigator in a major project looking at multi-lingualism, said rather than putting the onus solely on newcomers, social integration should be seen as a two-way street.

“Considering the issue from the point of view of language learning, we rightly expect immigrants to learn English but, as a nation, we often don’t see the need ourselves to learn another language, and consider it to be something difficult and only for the intellectual elite.

“I would like to see more opportunities for British people to learn some of the community languages of the UK, such as Polish, Punjabi and Urdu, particularly in areas where there are high numbers of those speakers, so that there is some mutual effort in understanding the others’ language and culture.”

Her comments follow the publication last December of a report looking into community cohesion in Britain in which Dame Louise Casey said some local communities were becoming increasingly divided as a result of government failure to ensure that social integration in the UK kept up with the “unprecedented pace and scale of immigration”.

Casey’s report recommended a major new strategy, including an “integration oath” to encourage immigrants to embrace British values and greater focus on promoting the English language. A second report earlier this month from the new all-party parliamentary group on social integration also called for new immigrants to Britain to learn English in compulsory classes on arrival.

Ayres-Bennett said there was a general lack of awareness of the value of languages in the UK. While there has been a marked improvement in the take-up of so-called Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), languages are still undervalued both in government and by the general public.

She said even a basic knowledge of some community languages could be beneficial to social cohesion and could be taught either formally or through joint community initiatives.

“One of the areas we are looking at in my project is the question of which languages we should be teaching and learning in the UK, and that is why we are looking not just at the major languages traditionally taught in our schools and universities such as French and Spanish, but also the indigenous languages (Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic) and the community languages.”

The study of modern foreign languages in schools and universities has fallen dramatically in recent years. “One of the reasons British monolinguals find foreign language learning difficult is because we don’t tend to have the same exposure to other languages outside the classroom, so that we generally hear the language we are learning relatively little compared with what happens elsewhere in Europe, where notably English is present on the TV, in pop songs and so on.

“As a society, we undervalue multilingualism and the positive impact it has on individuals, their health and their wellbeing as well as on our economy.”

from Education | The Guardian http://ift.tt/2jwuJXa