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Multilingual Capital

This project aims to engage with all groups impacted by multilingualism in London to share and develop insights about experiences of this in our capital city and beyond.

A photo of the Brick Lane street sign, with the translation below it
  • School/Institute/Department: School of Languages, Linguistics, and Film
  • Subjects: Bilingualism, Multilingualism
  • Audience: Multilingual communities of London

London is a multilingual capital. The most recent census results show that over 20% of Londoners use a main language other than English, much higher than the national average. Although research has indicated economic, social, and cognitive advantages to speaking more than one language, multilinguals in London still face many challenges using their languages. Some of the concerns they face include ensuring that future generations have some knowledge of their heritage language, raising a child bilingual in a minority language, evaluating negative beliefs about bilingualism, and addressing negative attitudes towards minority languages and groups.

Multilingual Capital is a new public engagement initiative based in the School of Languages, Linguistics, and Film (Linguistics Department, Queen Mary, University of London). It aims to engage with all groups impacted by multilingualism — parents, children, support services, schools, the general public — to share and develop insights about multilingualism. It takes a particular interest in East End communities, but also welcomes dialogue with groups across London and the UK, and indeed cross-national dialogue.

The basic goals of this initiative include:

• Engaging with London communities to strengthen communication across relevant groups
• Increasing the visibility of multilingualism in London so that the linguistic diversity of the capital is accurately represented
• Sharing research findings on multilingualism
• Creating new knowledge through documenting language use and diversity in London.

The initiative was launched through a successful public event on 18 March. The event was attended by over 70 attendees from a wide range of backgrounds, including students, researchers, interpreters, professionals with a personal or professional interest in multilingualism, educators, teachers, parents, and asylum and refugee workers The format of the event followed popular programmes such as Question Time, with short talks by the panel followed by their addressing questions submitted by the audience. The panel included: Dr. Beverley Costa (CEO of Mothertongue, a multilingual Counselling Service), Dr. Naomi Nagy (Lead investigator of the Heritage Language Variation and Change project in Toronto, Canada), Prof. Itesh Sachdev (Professor at SOAS, Director of The Centre for Languages of the Wider World), Dr. Esther de Leeuw (Linguistics, QMUL, specialist in bilingualism in immigrant communities), and Dr. Devyani Sharma (Linguistics, QMUL, specialist in language variation and change in London).

New activities and online information will continue to be added to the Multilingual Capital website: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/multilingualcapital

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