Policy Papers

Policy papers connect research with policy through focusing on a specific piece of research and explaining its relevance for policy. The link to policy can range from pointing out conclusions and lessons for practice through to discussion of existing policies and practices and formulation of policy recommendations. In all cases the emphasis is on providing research evidence for criticising, endorsing or proposing a policy.

Language inequality in education, law and citizenship

In April 2019, the University of Nottingham brought together academics with practitioners – teachers, examiners, dictionary-makers, speech therapists, legislators, translators, lobbyists, policy-makers, and others – to examine how assumptions and beliefs about correct, acceptable or standard languages impact on everyday life in a multilingual world. The papers in this Languages, Society and Policy special collection, all by participants in that “Language Rules?” workshop, offer perspectives on language inequality in education, law and citizenship, from the USA, Ireland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands as well as from within the UK. Five policy papers by Adler, Kibbee, Migge, Moreno-Rivero and Stollhans reflect on the implications of research on multilingualism for decision-making in aspects of law, citizenship, and education, while Debono’s opinion piece challenges us to consider the role of academic linguistic experts in court. Krogull and Darquennes, meanwhile, issue a challenge to researchers of historical sociolinguistics to tackle research questions in ways that yield insights to inform contemporary real-world decision-making.

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Addressing linguistic inequality in legal settings

  • Individuals have different linguistic competence in using the ‘standard’/official language(s) set by the state, and the differences can lead to inequality in the justice system.
  • Translators and interpreters in legal settings can be used as an immediate approach to compensate disadvantaged individuals
  • The right to an interpreter and/or translator for those who do not speak, or (far less often who speak non-standard varieties of the language of the court, is protected in many countries and mainly applies to criminal cases, leaving gaps in other legal cases where this right is not guaranteed.
  • In non-criminal trials, the responsibility to request interpreters and/or translators often falls either on those in need of the service, who sometimes are unaware of their needs or cannot afford the service, or on the judges who have not received sufficient training and support in recognizing and fulfilling these needs.
  • Practices addressing the issue include court transcription and interpreting, but even the use of these techniques does not eliminate errors which are extremely difficult to correct afterwards, leaving court participants’ rights unprotected.
  • More rigorous policies on legal interpretation and translation services are needed and a list of suggestions are provided in this paper.
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Why embed multilingualism into university practices?

  • This paper draws on my experiences with language in English and non-English-speaking universities, minority language education research (Migge et al 2010) and on a survey-based research project on linguistic diversity at a major Irish university (Lucek & Migge ms). 
  • Universities worldwide are under pressure to internationalise but there is a lack of clarity about what it means.
  • Internationalisation is interpreted to mean exposure to diversity.
  • Universities generally try to achieve internationalisation by encouraging students to spend one or more semesters at a foreign institution and by hiring foreign staff.
  • In terms of language, internationalisation is generally limited to discussions about access to English and the detrimental role of English.
  • Local academic staff and students are traditionally not seen as playing an integral role in internationalisation when at home.
  • Recommendation: a socially sustainable approach to internationalisation requires a bottom up approach: it must involve raising awareness about local and global diversity and its multifaceted origins through the core curriculum.
  • Recommendation: language is a central ‘tool’ for raising awareness about diversity and experiencing diversity.
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Counting languages: how to do it and what to avoid. A German perspective

  • The annual microcensus provides Germany’s most important official statistics. Unlike a census it does not cover the whole population, but a representative 1%-sample of it.
  • In 2017, the German microcensus asked a question on the language of the population, i.e. ‘Which language is mainly spoken in your household?’
  • Unfortunately, the question, its design and its position within the whole microcensus’ questionnaire feature several shortcomings. The main shortcoming is that multilingual repertoires cannot be captured by it. 
  • Recommendations for the improvement of the microcensus’ language question: first and foremost the question (i.e. its wording, design, and answer options) should make it possible to count multilingual repertoires.
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Linguistic variation in language learning classrooms: considering the role of regional variation and ‘non-standard’ varieties

  • Attitudes to language norms and variation in language teaching vary widely.
  • Concerns among professionals include anxiety that introducing learners to ‘non-standard’ varieties might lead to ambiguity and confusion, and a risk that students might be penalised for non-standard language in assessments.
  • On the other hand, linguistic variation is a rich area of study that can appeal to language learners and have a positive impact on motivation.
  • In German, as with many other languages, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, communicative conventions etc. can vary depending on factors such as region, social context, degree of formality, medium and relationship between the speakers.
  • Learners are likely to come across different varieties, whether online, mixing with L1 speakers, or in the country. They will benefit from some awareness of and sensitivity to these varieties.
  • Textbooks for German tend to focus on the ‘standard’ variety of Germany and only introduce Austrian and Swiss vocabulary to an extent.
  • A particularly striking example of how attitudes towards variation in language teaching can be shaped is the Chinese Putonghua Proficiency Test. This mandatory test for Chinese language teachers focuses on pronunciation, which is largely based on the Beijing variety.
  • The Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR) offers some guidance for the inclusion of variation in language teaching. 
  • Treating variation as an insightful and interesting area of study can have a motivational effect on learners. The paper makes concrete recommendations for policy-makers, publishers, authors of learning materials, examination boards and teacher training providers.
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Translation as social policy: quality management in public service interpreting and translation

  • Translation is an essential tool in diverse societies. As language conflicts grow within certain sectors of the population, translation and interpreting contribute to bridging the communication gap within multilingual nations.
  • Governmental social policies in the UK and Spain recognise the right to translation and interpreting in public settings, yet their implementation needs to be reinforced.
  • The provision of Public Service Interpreting and Translation (PSIT) has faced many challenges, and professionalisation is encouraged. The privatisation and outsourcing of court interpreting have proven to be detrimental to the profession. 
  • In this paper, we call for close collaborations between governmental agencies and policymakers with translation organizations to ensure that the quality of PSIT is guaranteed.
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Recognising and protecting the communication rights of autistic children

  • Autistic children are at risk of having their communication rights violated. This risk is heightened for autistic children with communication disability, which can emerge from factors inherent in autism, co-occurring language disorders and societal barriers. This risk is also unacceptably high for autistic children from minority groups.
  • The autistic community, researchers, clinicians and policymakers must work together to promote the communication rights of all autistic children. In particular, Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) can contribute valuable expertise to the development and implementation of impactful policies in this field.
  • We propose three areas of policy action to better protect the communication rights of autistic children:
    • Area 1: Promoting more Inclusive Communication practices in our society;
    • Area 2: Enabling the co-creation of communication support services with autistic children and other relevant stakeholders;
    • Area 3: Increasing the visibility, access and inclusivity of specialist services.
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Grammatical errors: what can we do about them?

  • Every second language (L2) speaker will make grammatical errors, irrespective of age, education, motivation or learning context.  Errors often persist even after focused teaching of the relevant forms and rules and abundant exposure to input through immersion.
  • Errors may persist even in the language of young learners immersed in mainstream education. It is important to recognise that grammatical errors do not, in any way, reflect the cognitive abilities or intelligence of these young learners. 
  • Grammatical errors arise because learners have difficulty processing L2 forms which do not have  easily identifiable meaning. Learning activities helping learners to process the relevant forms correctly can improve their accuracy. Such grammar processing activities need to take into account the degree of similarity between the target L2 forms  and the first language(s) of the learners.
  • Young immigrant children acquiring the language of their host country through immersion in mainstream education require support in their L2. Online grammar activities incorporated in a blended learning environment can provide a personalised approach, without disrupting children’s attendance in the mainstream classroom.
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