As global and local communications continue to become more vital than ever — and more and more disparate — five academies from the UK, the US, Canada and Australia are calling for a broader embrace of languages.
In an unprecedented global call to action, five international academies from three continents have released a Joint Statement on Languages. The British Academy, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia have joined forces to promote multilingualism around the world, and particularly in regions with predominantly English-speaking populations.
The call is being made as countries across the globe are struggling to disseminate timely information about the pandemic to communities that speak minority languages. It also follows a United States presidential election with the highest turnout in history, as well as record requests for non-English ballots in many regions. While this year has amplified calls for broader language access, the Joint Statement on Languages takes it a step further not just to push for language access, but also to promote active engagement across languages.
“Language education, and the accompanying linguistic and intercultural competencies, are a necessity for social, political and economic development, and for effective collaboration,” the statement explains. “During a global health crisis, researchers, governments, and health care workers must be able to share accurate information. In such times, language matters, and fluency in our languages matters. The people of the world must be able to speak to each other and be understood — to communicate as effectively and as rapidly as technology allows.”
The statement also highlights Anglophone communities as one of the most vital groups to embrace other languages, as these communities are often where some of the largest language disparities exist, seen here in the English-only voting laws still cited in Iowa.
“Today, Anglophone communities in particular are not producing enough speakers of languages other than English to meet 21st-century needs, arguing that multilingualism is too difficult to achieve, or that English should be treated as a lingua franca,” the statement goes on. “Nor are these communities sufficiently focused on what is needed for the preservation, maintenance, and invigoration of the other linguistic communities with whom they live.”
Although the statement calls for native English speakers to embrace other languages, it also recognizes the global value of English, stating that “English in particular is the most commonly taught language in the world by a factor of twenty,” and that “Providing all of our citizens full access to literate English must therefore continue to be an educational priority.”
This is one of three primary goals the statement outlines as necessary steps to ensuring language enhancement in education. The titles for each respective goal are Hold — in the case of the English — Celebrate, and Gain. Celebrate refers to the need to provide support and protection for “languages of minority and Indigenous populations,” while Gain refers to the general benefits to literacy, educational attainment, and employability that come from being multilingual.
The statement concludes, “We call for governments, policy makers, and educators, alongside business, industry, and others, to take concerted, systematic and coordinated action to widen capacity for, and promote the opportunities of, widely accessible education in a broad range of languages.”