Multilingual Education in Britain

The State of the Art
  • Safder Alladina
Part of the Topics in Language and Linguistics book series (TLLI)


A multilingual education program in schools needs information on the linguistic repertoire of school children and information on levels of literacy and competence in those languages. There is no comprehensive survey of languages spoken in Britain. Information on language use among British school children is either area specific or is contained in sample surveys from various parts of Britain. Even these linguistic sketches have a great degree of statistical unreliability due to weaknesses in methodology and language classification (Alladina, 1982, 1985a,b). The Department of Education and Science estimates that the number of pupils aged between 5 and 16 years whose first language is not English is somewhere between 375,000 and 500,000 (Commission of the European Communities, 1984). In the absence of a comprehensive language survey of school children in Britain, the Inner London Education Authority’s 1983 Language Census (ILEA, 1983) can be used to illustrate the language situation in the inner-city schools in Britain. Of the 147 languages recorded, 12 had more than 1,000 speakers each and among them accounted for 83% of pupils speaking a language other than or in addition to English. These languages were: Bengali (9,089 speakers), Turkish (4,316), Gujrati (3,632), Spanish (3,466), Greek (3,410), Urdu (3,326), Panjabi (3,022), Chinese (2,825), Italian (2,421), Arabic (2,345), French (2,167), and Portuguese (1,861). The census did not collect information on the levels of literacy of these pupils in their home languages. Language surveys in Britain that give information on literacy have relied on self-reports in data collection and not on statistically or pedagogically sound methods of eliciting information on levels of literacy.


Minority Language Committee Report Home Language British School Language Classification 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Safder Alladina
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Teaching StudiesThe Polytechnic of North LondonLondonEngland

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