Perspective: Diversity - in Any Language; Education Correspondent Richard Warburton Examines the Increasing Importance Languages Play in Birmingham's Multi-Cultural Society

The Birmingham Post (England), March 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Perspective: Diversity - in Any Language; Education Correspondent Richard Warburton Examines the Increasing Importance Languages Play in Birmingham's Multi-Cultural Society


Byline: Richard Warburton

The British are notoriously bad at speaking any language other than English, but Birmingham does more than any other city to embrace cultures and use the diversity of native tongues to its advantage.

During the past 30 years, as the city's population swelled with citizens from every corner of the globe, languages have brought Birmingham together rather than driving it apart.

There are now more than 50 different languages spoken natively within our city, each of which add to Birmingham's burgeoning reputation as a melting pot of culture, style and worldly inspiration.

Ezra Pound wrote 'the sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language' and in recent years Britain, shaking off its imperial attitude, has realised this and more people than ever before are taking up another language.

On March 21, as part of Birmingham's first ever Education Day, we are invited to learn phrases in one of Birmingham's 21 most spoken languages, making you realise the vast cultural make-up of your average Brummie.

In our city's homes, schools, shops and playgrounds you can hear more languages than are spoken at an average meeting of NATO and those of us only able to speak English should feel embarrassed by our naivety.

Nowhere can you see a wider variety of languages than in our city schools.

Some of our primaries have more than 90 per cent of pupils claiming English as their second language and many of our secondary schools have students from more than nine different countries worldwide.

George Dixon Secondary School in Edgbaston is truly international and has pupils from as far afield as Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Kosovo, Spain, Monserat, Uganda, Holland, India, Gambia and Pakistan.

Amazingly the school thrives with 39 languages spoken and many pupils arriving as 11-years-olds speaking little or no English.

Bob Dowling, the school's headteacher, said the variety of languages makes for a special and unique atmosphere.

'The host of languages at this school has made it stronger and not brought it down,' he said.

'We have pupils come to us at 11 who can speak nothing but Mandarin or Zulu and within two years are almost fluent in English and studying for exams.

'The different languages result in a cultural richness that cannot be matched anywhere else and the school and all its pupils thrive on the diversity.'

Nelson Mandela Community Primary School, Sparkbrook, has been labelled as 'outstanding' by Ofsted inspectors despite 95 per cent of its pupils coming from non-English speaking homes.

The school employs more than six specialised English teachers who give youngsters - mostly from Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi communities - constant support to help them learn English as quick as possible.

The pupils are often the first link their parents have with speaking English and in turn help to teach them basic phrases to watch TV or read the local paper.

Birmingham also has several specialist language schools that get Government funding to build strong language departments.

As a specialist Language College Kings Norton aims to equip students with the necessary skills to take their places in the global economy.

As well as the usual French and German, the school can now teach less common languages such as Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Latin.

Like all specialist schools, Bishop Vesey Grammar School, in Sutton Coldfield, will receive a pounds 100,000 capital grant to promote languages and pounds 123 per pupil per year for four years. …

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