The Multilingual University – A Westminster Learning Community
The University website rightly demonstrates pride in the fact that Westminster has students from 169 nations and, with that, the most diverse student community in the UK. This WLC is designed to contribute to the University’s commitment to inclusion by exploring and promoting Westminster’s linguistic diversity. The Westminster community’s international nature, in combination with the many students from London’s communities, in which already in 2000 over 300 languages were found among the school population, must mean that Westminster is also the most multilingual university in the country, if not in Europe.
Attitudes towards multilingualism and plurilingualism (the Council of Europe distinction between what others call societal multilingualism and individual multilingualism) in the UK tend to deny the importance and benefits for all of linguistic diversity. There is often a focus on deficit perspectives (i.e. the weaknesses in English) and viewing the presence of other languages at best with disinterest or, at worst, as a problem (unless they are considered to be ‘high status’ languages). However, this does not only ignore the enormous benefits of multilingualism for individuals, institutions and society as a whole, but also excludes a vital aspect of identity and stifles the enhanced opportunities for learning that such diversity brings. This exclusion of a person’s linguistic identity can then impact negatively on a sense of belonging. (See, e.g., Lamb 2015; Lamb and Vodicka 2018; Lamb, Hatoss and O’Neill 2019).
This WLC aims to put the University’s multilingualism on the agenda and, in so doing, to contribute to its inclusivity, demonstrating that all languages are an asset. By making the as yet unknown number of languages visible to all and providing evidence of their benefits on personal, academic, social, cultural and employability levels, the intention is to challenge the problematisation of (or ambivalence towards) multilingualism and to present it as a source of pride, to benefit staff and students as well as communities beyond the University, and to enhance the reputation of the University. As the WLC progresses, other aspects of the Multilingual University will form the basis of research, both linguistic and pedagogic, and dissemination, exploring, for example, the ways in which multilingualism forms part of an internationalised curriculum, and teaching staff’s awareness of issues related to language use across the curriculum.
Next steps: If you would like to get involved in this Community or find out more about it, please contact Terry Lamb on email@example.com