On 23 and 24 February 2018, an interdisciplinary conference on Migration & Language-Learning: Histories, Approaches, Polices took place at the University of Leeds and John Bellamy, representing MEITS, was in attendence.
Organised by John Gallagher and sponsored by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award, the conference had a series of papers exploring the historical relationship between migration and language-learning, from as far back as Ancient Italy up to the present-day situation of refugees in contemporary Europe. Presenters came from a variety of backgrounds, including language teachers, journalists and volunteers who provide support for refugees.
The geographical scope of the papers was truly international, covering contexts as diverse as the languages spoken by Afghan refugees in Pakistan, ideologically-motivated language policies in Argentina and the symbolic role of English for Algerians returning to their home country after having lived abroad. There was an intriguing mix of the past with the present, where themes emerging in earlier times are clearly still prominent in modern discourses. For example, the fear of one's language being 'endangered' by another language spoken by new arrivals and discussions about the challenges of developing effective language learning materials for people settling in the country. The first day focused on the topics of deep histories, social media in the modern age and language-learning from the perspectives of teachers and learners. The sessions of the second day considered language and migration from both past and present angles, language and politics in the 19th and 20th centuries, languages on the move from the 20th century onwards and the view from Leeds itself.
Each day the conference ended with an exciting activity or event. On the Friday, everyone was treated to an ESOL workshop organised by Heart & Parcel from Manchester who demonstrated how they encourage learning and speaking English through cooking and baking, for example by making dumplings together. The conference culminated on the Saturday with an event open to the public on the 'The Good Immigrant', where writers explored what it means to be Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in Britain today.