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Immigration, Emigration and the European Day of Languages

Sprachen verbindenHappy European Day of Languages! We’re lucky to have another blog from Maik Barrett. Over to you Maik…

The 26th September is a significant day. Not only is it my brother’s birthday, but ever since 2001’s “European Year of Languages”, this was the day set with the objective to encourage language learning across Europe. Of course multilingualism and cultural diversity is a fact of life for a lot of people already, considering that according to the Evening Standard there are 300 languages spoken in London alone. As has often been observed, you can easily walk down Oxford Street and not catch sight of a single native English speaker. And with so many multinational companies headquartered in and around London, people from across Europe, and sometimes even further afield, come to work in the UK. Add to that the increase in immigration, whether it is those fleeing war, or those coming to find work, and you end up with what is probably the most ethnically and linguistically diverse part of the whole of Europe. Which adds to the irony of the European Day of Languages sharing its hashtag #EDL with the English Defence League!

Of course I myself am I migrant, having come to the UK to work after marrying the lovely Sarah Barrett, whose Yorkshire dialect took a bit of getting used to, even after being multilingual already. Most Eastern Europeans living in the UK are multilingual as well, for example our Bulgarian friends who also speak Russian and English. (Check out our blog on “Language learning is a great way to make friends ‎”)

It works the other way too. Particularly in recent weeks, a lot has been said and written about increases in immigration, but not so much about emigration, i.e. the over 300,000 Brits who chose to leave old Blighty for (presumably) warmer climes in Spain, France and other countries. One would hope they speak the local language!

Not that all this migration is new. Our family went to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich a few weekends ago, and Britain’s seafaring past is certainly, among other things, a story of migration. In fact the museum currently has a special exhibition, open until 15th November, in collaboration with The Migration Museum Project, which is well worth seeing, and highly interactive. The Migration Museum Project’s aim is to reflect the important role that migrants have played in the making of Britain. It tells the story of migration to and from Britain in an engaging and non-political way. Most people have a migration story somewhere in their family history.

So on this European Day of Languages, let’s celebrate the cultural and linguistic diversity brought by migration. If you live somewhere as diverse as London, I would challenge you to count today how many different languages and nationalities you recognise around you, and let us know in the comments or on Twitter @lingotasticuk #Europeandayoflanguages .

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