To celebrate the launch of the Manchester Urban Institute, and to highlight  the expertise of its academics in terms of urban research, MUI have joined up with Policy@Manchester to deliver a series of blogs focused on  the Manchester urban area. 

Greater Manchester needs an integrated, evidence-based vision for dealing with its vast array of spoken languages, says Yaron Matras, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Manchester.

Manchester’s language diversity is not untypical for global cities, yet its density is arguably record breaking with some 200 languages spoken by a population of around half a million.

Almost 40% of Manchester schoolchildren are registered as having a language other than English as their home language (up to 95% in individual schools), with up to 55 different languages in a single school. Various NHS outlets respond to an estimated 100,000 requests for interpreting every year.

For that reason, understanding language needs and planning language provisions is key to delivering effective services. Giving communities a sense of pride and confidence in their cultural heritage is an important part of ensuring community cohesion. Harnessing language skills in the young generation workforce opens up new prospects for economic growth and development.

Indeed, there is a clear link between the availability of interpreting and translation provisions to ensure access to services and employment for new arrival populations, support for community languages as expressions of community heritage, and the cultivation of languages as skills to support global outreach.

Multilingual Manchester

The Multilingual Manchester strategic initiative engages with local stakeholders to study policy needs and provisions. It operates a unique model that brings together undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and high impact research, with public engagement and outreach, including a university-wide student volunteer scheme and various co-production initiatives.

In 2015 we published an analysis of Manchester’s language provisions, pointing out their decentralised and responsive character and the role of networks and public-private sector partnerships.

In partnership with local schools, we developed a method to identify and assess pupils’ home languages that alleviates some inadequacies of the official school census. Working with Greater Manchester Police, we analysed client reactions to letters and produced guidelines for smoother communication, which are currently being implemented.

Public sector

In 2016 we produced an extensive report in partnership with the NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups into interpreting provisions in central Manchester hospitals and primary care, assessing an innovative model of networking partnership. Meanwhile, we continue to work with practitioners in various sectors, including community-run supplementary schools and speech and language therapists, to map and raise confidence in language skills.

Provisions for community languages, and support for English, are often portrayed in public and policy debates as a juxtaposition. But this is misguided, and the two are in fact complementary.

Public service interpreting allows new arrivals to engage with services and is an important conduit to integration and a facilitator for acquiring English. Indeed, in the school setting there is a clear correlation between high proficiency in the home language, and high proficiency in English. Agencies like Greater Manchester Police face communication challenges not just with speakers of other languages, but also in English.

The city therefore requires an integrated vision and an evidence-based and data-driven strategy for languages and communication.