Educational institutions in the Anglophone world are often portrayed as monolingual English spaces. How refreshing to come across an alternative view representing Anglophone institutions as multilingual spaces. This photo of the linguistic and cultural diversity in primary schools in Lewisham , South East London, was taken at the Migration Museum in Lewisham Shopping Centre just before lockdown. While English is the medium of instruction at school, English exists in a relationship with the other languages in the children’s lives. Making these visible is the first step in acknowledging that linguistic diversity is a resource for the school community and for wider society.
What about higher education? Universities in Anglophone settings are vast multilingual spaces with English coexisting with large numbers of other languages among the staff and student population. Let’s look at UCL’s student population for an example. UCL tells us that it is ‘London’s leading multidisciplinary university, with more than 13,000 staff and 42,000 students from 150 countries’
If we dig into these numbers we discover that
- 43% (around 18,000 students) are overseas students from non Anglophone nations (bringing English plus the languages of hundreds of non Anglophone nations to UCL)
- 5% (around 2,000 students) are overseas students from Anglophone nations outside the UK (bringing English plus the languages learned in schooling and community settings to UCL)
- 21% (around 9,000 students) are UK students from Black and Minority Ethnic families (bringing English plus the community and heritage languages of BAME communities in the UK to UCL, such as those illustrated in the Lewisham primary schools)
- 31% (around 13,000 students) are UK students from white British families (bringing English plus the languages learned in schooling and community settings to UCL)
These figures give us some indication of the rich linguistic diversity in universities in Anglophone settings in which multilingual repertoires are the norm among the student population. It’s time for universities to portray themselves as Anglophone AND multilingual.