Scope of Study

LINEE researchers have interviewed over one hundred politicians, representatives of institutions dealing with migration and language as well as Romanian, Polish and other migrants in Castell/Barcelona, Basel and Southampton.

They also analysed policy, consultative, statements and media texts on language, citizenship and migration.

Firstly, researchers wanted to know whether the ideology informing language policies was one that promoted monolingualism or multilingualism.

Secondly, they wanted to know more about the role of language in migration and integration and thirdly, they investigated the migrants relationships to their countries of origin and the role that language and language policies played in this relationship.

3rd Issue, March 2009

Multilingualism: Seen as a Deficit, Not an Asset

Three case studies in Spain (Castell and Barcelona), Switzerland (Basel) and England (Southampton) suggest that a monolingual ideology underlies language policies dealing with migrants. In all three cases, learning the respective official language(s) is seen as a crucial factor in integration and the migrants multilingual background is not seen as an asset, but as a deficit.

LINEE researchers conducting the study "Language Policies, Citizenship and Migration" have investigated the language policies in Castell/Barcelona (Spain), in Basel (Switzerland) and Southampton (England) and the effects this language policy has had on migrants from Romania and Poland.

They found that language policies in all three cases promote the use of a single language rather than multilingualism. Apparently, language policies do not see multilingualism as an opportunity for social and cultural enrichment but as a barrier to social integration and cohesion.

Language not the main concern for migrants
In all three cases, official policies assume that language is crucial for social integration. In Castell and Barcelona, however, the Romanian migrants said that although speaking Spanish was very useful, it was not as essential as policies would suggest.

Although Romanian migrants in Spain acknowledge that it is easier to get work if they speak some Spanish, they said that it is not essential since they could work with little or no knowledge of Spanish in sectors like domestic help, construction or agriculture. Very few of them tried to learn Spanish before they came to Spain, because getting a job and the right documents were more important to them. They were not encouraged by their relatives already living in Spain to learn the language either.


English as the key to "Britishness"
In the UK, English is generally seen as the foundation to "Britishness" not only by the government but also by citizens. Learning of English is therefore seen as a precondition for integration. Some of the interviewed migrants perceived acquiring English as "vital" and "the most important thing" in the integration process, too.

In the UK, applicants for citizenship have to demonstrate knowledge of English and of life in the UK. However, the interviewed migrants had varied and nuanced opinions about the acquisition of English as a condition for citizenship. For them, the role of English in the process of naturalization is not as evident as it apparently is for the government.

Residence permits depending on language skills
In the canton of Basel in Switzerland, the administration can make language courses compulsory for migrants requesting a residence permit or the renewal of such a permit. While the interviewed Romanian immigrants agree that knowledge of the local language is a precondition for integration and that it facilitates communication and social integration, some of them questioned this approach and stressed its assimilationist tendency. Many interviewees said that integration through language was not enough, that efforts should include educational and economic integration as well.

Unequal treatment of immigrants
In Switzerland, citizens of the EU or EFTA as well as highly qualified workers do not have to attend language courses. Similarly, in the UK, citizens from outside the EU have to be, for example, "active citizens" or show commitment to adopt the dominant way of life in order to earn citizenship, whereas these criteria do not apply to citizens of the EU or to UK-born citizens, for that matter. In Spain, too, there are tendencies towards unequal treatment of immigrants: moves towards linking language competence with permission to enter or reside in the country would implicitly favour Latin American immigrants.


Multilingualism not appreciated
In all three cases, multilingualism seems not to be appreciated. In Spain, although the regions where the research took place are in fact multilingual, language policies concentrate solely on the protection and promotion of Catalan/Valencian rather than the home languages of the migrants. In the UK, translation services are reduced in order to encourage immigrants to learn English and there are few opportunities for immigrants to use their own languages. Finally, in Switzerland, while citizens from outside the EU have to follow language courses, EU citizens are not required to learn the language of the country they reside in, which appears to be at odds with the EUs promotion of multilingualism and its associated benefits for the individual of increased employability, mobility etc.


>>> Comment by Dick Vigers, University of Southampton, UK