The Importance of Languages in Global Context: An International Call to Action

by the British Academy, American Academy of Arts, Sciences, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, Australian Academy of the Humanities and The Royal Society of Canada

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We are at an extraordinary moment in human history. Cooperation within and across borders is vital as we work to solve global challenges. Clear and precise communication is more crucial than ever before to the health and security of every nation.

As global businesses, diplomatic corps, and other leaders have repeatedly stated, language education, and the accompanying linguistic and intercultural competencies, are a necessity for social, political and economic development, and for effective collaboration. During a global health crisis, researchers, governments, and health care workers must be able to share accurate information. In such times, language matters, and fluency in our languages matters. The people of the world must be able to speak to each other and be understood—to communicate as effectively and as rapidly as technology allows.

The COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest indication that societies and institutions need to develop language policies that are explicit, coordinated and comprehensive, making access to all of the world’s languages a core feature and indispensable part of the education of every student, of every age, beginning with the language(s) learned at home.

The challenge of providing education in multiple languages has proven especially complicated in primarily Anglophone nations, and even in countries whose English-speakers are co-citizens with important populations speaking other languages. Today, Anglophone communities in particular are not producing enough speakers of languages other than English to meet 21st-century needs, arguing that multilingualism is too difficult to achieve, or that English should be treated as a lingua franca. Nor are these communities sufficiently focused on what is needed for the preservation, maintenance, and invigoration of the other linguistic communities with whom they live.

To help reverse this trend, the British Academy and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences have issued complementary reports promoting the importance of languages in addition to English, within both education and wider society. They are now joined by the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, and the Royal Society of Canada in this joint statement of shared principles for the future of language education.

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