This week in languages: Nov 6, 2015

by on November 6, 2015



For four years, Punjabi has been the third most spoken language in Canada where only 1.3% of the population are native Punjai speakers. After the recent election of 20 Punjabi-speaking lawmakers—who make up 6% of the House of Commons—Canada includes Punjabi as the third language in the House of Commons, after French and English, reported NDTV.

Over in Australia, a $9.8million second language learning programme is being tested to encourage early exposure to non-English languages in students. This comes after the rate of Year 12 students choosing to take on a second language in school dropped to 12% in a country with more than 250 different languages spoken in the home domain. For a year, the Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) programme would provide interactive software and online-learning programmes in Arabic, French, Indonesian, Japanese, and Mandarin.

Zimbabwe has become the third African country in recent weeks to announce a reduced role for English as the medium of instruction in the classroom, following similar announcements by Ghana and Tanzania. Charles Mubita argues in favour of these moves in Namibia’s New Era, stating that having children learn and speak “the language of the coloniser” may have a “deleterious effect on their self-concept.” A debate around similar issues continues to rock South Africa, with the University of Pretoria’s ongoing review of whether Afrikaans should remain a language of instruction alongside English, and whether other languages should also be introduced as options.

In the United Kingdom, the County Council of Cornwall has announced plans to encourage the use of Cornish in county call centre service staff greetings. The county aims to increase the use of Cornish “in everyday life” and to have it spoken “in pubs and on street corners”, as part of a bigger initiative known as the Cornish Language Plan.

Malaysian Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid expressed his support for the Malay language continuing to serve as the “language of knowledge and unity” in the country. However, he also noted that he expected Malaysians to use the language to “show their love and loyalty to the country by upholding the spirit of ‘Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa’.”

Commentaries and Features

Are young people in the UK losing interest in learning languages? A 2014 report that the number of university applications to full-time modern foreign language courses has reached its lowest in a decade seems to suggest as much. Holly Young at The Guardian debunks this myth, pointing out that young people are finding new ways to learn languages beyond applying for language degrees.

Melinda Anderson at The Atlantic writes about the new appeal of bilingual education (‘dual-language courses’) in the U.S. and how Native American languages are now making a comeback in language immersion programmes after decades of state censure. Many parents and governing bodies have come to realise what much research has shown: that children exposed to a bilingual learning environment have stronger literacy skills, greater cross-cultural understanding and when immersed in their native language, greater community pride.

Global profiled Venezuelan university student Saúl López, or Kuyujani, a native speaker of Ye’kwana (Spanish), who has been using knowledge and skills gained from his studies to revitalise Ye’kwana and his community, and who hopes to highlight “the importance of our aboriginal languages and the ongoing search for new ways to defend and maintain them.”

At El Pais, Carlos Yárnoz criticises the French government’s “centralist” (Spanish) policies for doing nothing to support regional languages like Breton and Basque.

Rasha Ajalyaqeen, a retired Arabic–English interpreter for the United Nations, talks about the importance of being invisible and reflecting the speaker’s feelings in your voice, in a feature for The New York Times Magazine.

Amidst criticism that the Government of Kerala, India, was delaying the implementation of the Malayalam Language Act, the state’s Cultural Affairs Minister stated that progress was smooth and that the bill has appeared before the state cabinet for approval. The Act would make Malayalam language instruction compulsory at some levels of schooling in a state with 32.3 million speakers of the language.

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