Decolonising Language Education and Curriculum


This article was written by Prof Jieun Kiaer, Young Bin Min-KF Professor of Korean Linguistics

Every language is created equally, but not all languages are treated equally. As diverse and multicultural the UK is, Eurocentrism is still present here. According to the Language Census (ONS, 2021), half of the top ten languages spoken in the UK are Asian. Yet, Modern Foreign Languages departments in the UK are most likely to teach French, Italian, and Spanish, while non-European languages are pushed to the side, with the exception of Mandarin.  Non-European languages are seriously underrepresented in schools, and are often undervalued by both teachers and the wider community. On the heels of Brexit, xenophobic sentiment has been rife throughout the media and House of Commons. The result is that the British population lacks awareness of its diversity and the languages of our time. Language curriculums reflect this disappointing reality.

I am all too keenly aware of the issues that exist within our education curriculums. When I was working as a Director of Outreach, I asked a group of primary school children which languages are spoken in India. They all answered ‘Indian’. As the UK has such a large ethnically Indian population, I was shocked to hear the pupils answer with a language that does not actually exist! Their answer was reflective of their educational environment, which had clearly failed to cover a diverse range of languages and countries.

The first step to start dealing with this issue is to correct our young people’s perception of Britain and its languages. Whether in primary school, secondary school, or higher education, all our young people should have a better awareness of which cultures and languages exist in our ever globalising world. Remaining ignorant to our diversity is a long lasting colonial legacy, whereby there is prejudice towards learning about non-European languages and cultures. In this multicultural and multilingual age, our pupils are also from diverse backgrounds, with many speaking languages other than English at home. We need to create an environment in which students can share and celebrate their heritage, so that they and their classmates can grow up to become global citizens. This project aims to enhance the equality and diversity within our department. It will help British youth and the general public to celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity in local communities.