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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

LingLunch - Policies and practices towards newcomer languages in Northern Ireland: Insights from two Belfast-based primary schools

When: Wednesday, April 7, 2021, 1:00 PM - 1:00 PM

Speaker: Anik Nandi

We have the pleasure to welcome Anik Nandi who will give the following talk:

Until very recently, discussions around language policy and planning in Northern Ireland (NI) have focussed mainly on the two indigenous languages of the area: Irish (Gaelic) and Ulster-Scots. However, in this geopolitical context, many other languages are spoken, especially those of the immigrant communities, such as Polish, Chinese, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Spanish, Somali, Arabic and various Indian languages. These languages bring complexity to the existing linguistic diversity in NI, especially in the context of compulsory education. For instance, the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership (2014) records a 72% increase among immigrant children between 2007 and 2012. Additionally, the Department of Education’s (2018) recent statistics on school enrolment states that there are more than 15,000 newcomer pupils studying in Northern Irish primary schools who do not have English as their first language, and they speak around 90 different languages. Although the Good Friday Agreement (1998) recognises this diversity and calls for “respect, understanding and tolerance” for the languages of the various ethnic communities, in practice, there is no particular policy to protect and/or promote these languages. Whereas many commentators (see Williams 2018; Kelly 2018) believe that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU may accelerate the recognition of its heritage languages, in the backdrop of Brexit, this study examines the contemporary educational language policy of NI to understand its treatment of immigrant community languages. The aim is also to ascertain whether the home languages of newcomer pupils are used, supported and promoted (or not) in the education system. This will be studied in relation to two Belfast-based linguistically diverse mainstream primary schools. Using various ethnographic research tools such as observation in the schools, in-depth interviews with head teachers, focus groups with parents and educators, this paper demonstrates how educational settings become a place of constant negotiation among diverse policy actors including educators, immigrant parents, newcomer children and their monolingual Anglophone classmates.         


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