Universities deaf to linguistic diversity

September 27, 2002

Universities advertise their multicultural diversity in recruitment literature but most are ignorant of the language their ethnic-minority students speak at home and the difficulties they may face, a leading languages practitioner has claimed.

Clare Mar-Molinero, head of Southampton University School of Modern Languages, said that universities boasted multicultural awareness, but unlike schools, were not addressing the equal opportunities issues multilingualism raises in the curriculum nor in widening participation and recruitment.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service records UK home students'

ethnic background but not whether English is their first, second or third language. The categories make it hard to derive data on how many applicants have English as a home language and their success rate.

Dr Mar-Molinero said: "There is a big difference in attitude towards immigrants and their descendants and towards minority indigenous language speakers, such as the Welsh."

Dr Mar-Molinero organised an international symposium at Southampton on the future of minority languages to mark the second European Day of Languages yesterday. She said that the academic community was quick to bemoan the decline in the study of languages such as French and German or in classics but was not raising its voice to help immigrant minority-language speakers.

"There is a need to balance the empowerment given by a good knowledge of English with the individual's cultural need to retain a knowledge and use of their mother tongue," Dr Mar-Molinero said.

Beverley Bernard, acting chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, said that English was essential for attainment and achievement in education and in the labour market but "any suggestion that we can proscribe when and to whom we should speak is not acceptable".

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