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Engaging with Multilingualism in Global Cities

Engaging with Multilingualism in Global Cities: Arguing for ‘language hierarchy free’ policy and practice in education

Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith

UCL Institute of Education Hosted by The Faculty of Human Sciences Multilingualism Research CentreAugust 26 (3 - 4pm) 12SW 218 Abstract Educators working in diverse contexts and looking to promote language learning, as well as maintaining home languages, often encounter resistance and negativity directed towards a wide range of languages resulting in language loss at the individual level and language death at a societal level. On the other hand, a small number of languages are regarded as high status languages, in demand to study and speak. This paper has two aims: firstly, to identify processes which result in different attitudes to languages, which will be termed: language hierarchies and, secondly, to suggest an innovative way of creating conditions for development of ‘hierarchy-free education policy and practice’. In order to exemplify these processes the author’s previous research conducted in London and Cardiff is used. Hierarchy-free policy and practice is promoted as a necessary condition for sustainability of endangered languages. The second part of this paper introduces the concept of: ‘Healthy Linguistic Diet’ (Mehmedbegović 2011) and makes a proposal based on this concept for a new, cognitive-based approach to policy and practice in education which would help eradicate language hierarchies. This section presents latest research evidence from cognitive neuroscience, which supports the argument that all stakeholders in education and wider society would benefit from a shift in attitudes and approach to bilingualism and learning other languages. The benefits at the individual and societal level are so significant that acting on this evidence is not only an educational, but also a health and moral imperative too. In the conclusion, the author gives recommendations in terms of how this new strategy could be developed and implemented. About Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith Dina is a lecturer on a range of UCL Institute of Education (IOE), London, courses at PGCE, MA and doctoral level. She was on the core IOE team developing the National English as an Additional Language (EAL) Workforce Strategy; a key staff member in the development of the new programmes addressing the needs of bilingual children: MA in Bilingual Learners in Urban Settings and PGCE EAL Pathway. Her previous roles also include: Deputy Director of the London Education Research Unit (2009-11) and the editor of the IOE publication the London Digest, with the brief of generating and sharing knowledge on key education issues in London and global cities. Her research focuses on attitudes to bilingualism/multilingualism, minority languages and positioning of languages in relation to domination, political power and language disappearance. She is currently developing interdisciplinary work with colleagues from neuroscience aimed at providing a broader evidence base for advocating cognitive benefits of bilingualism in education and life-long learning. Her concept Healthy Linguistic Diet is an innovative approach to language learning and has been endorsed by the EU Commission in their report: Rethinking Language Education, as a part of the EU Language policy review.

Dina’s work on using autobiographical multimedia classroom approaches to develop intercultural competencies has been published and recognised as good practice by the Department of Education, NALDIC (National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum) and the British Council.

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