This Saturday saw the Linguascope conference, fast becoming a trusty fixture in the language learning calendar. This year’s edition took place at the fabulous Mama Shelter in London, and as always, the event is a nice opportunity for us resource bods to learn from classroom teachers’ experience.
The overarching theme of the 2023 edition was diversity and inclusion. The precept is simple: no student should feel left out by the curriculum, unable to identify themselves in its content. It’s high time. After all, language use in the wild is already changing to reflect that updated social reality, not least in terms of pronoun usage. It follows logically that the teaching of language should mirror how it is being used.
Sadly, it’s still a topic that is politically charged. The reasons are many, but fundamentally, it seems that societal change triggers defensiveness, and defensive viewpoints are, in turn, prone to becoming entrenched. The fact that the change implicates identity, the hues that define our very existence, doubtlessly plays its part in how emotive it is.
And there were discouraging stories of friction and pushback amongst the conference delegates. Not amongst students, but from parents, guardians, boards, and other staff. It’s easy for us to judge them, but harder – and undoubtedly more compassionate – to understand that fear prevents some from welcoming difference.
But the flip side is the overwhelming positivity in stories of otherwise marginalised students feeling welcome and valid in the shared learning space. Their reactions show that inclusivity is less a political agenda than simply a truer reflection of social realities. What’s more, that heart-opening positivity is double-sided. Unless you live in a box, you will encounter diversity in the real world. Inclusive learning materials prepare us better to meet that with acceptance, tolerance and love, no matter how homogenous our own environments are.
As one wise voice proffered at the conference, inclusivity is not a question of promoting, but simply of representing. That’s the key: being inclusive doesn’t make change, but simply reflects it.
It’s a topic that raises questions for our own, individual learning too. How welcoming and validating are our target language skills? Is the language we learn representative of diverse ways of being? What social reality is reflected in the resources we used to learn French, German, Spanish? There’s a duty for us to audit our sources, and stay in the loop, to ensure we’re not hanging onto any linguistic fossils.
It’s an issue that came up in a recent Greek lesson of mine. The conversation turned to race, and I came completely unstuck. I realised that I lacked all tools in my target language to talk about race in anything but the most unnuanced, bald terms. In this case, honesty, humility and a good teacher bridged the divide and filled the gap. But it’s even better to preempt the need and do that work in advance.
Linguascope’s inclusivity conference is a reminder to us all to build that into our language learning.
On that note, I’ll end with a link to the excellent inclusivity resources at Twinkl, signposted by the brilliant Sharon Barnes in a very on-point and thoughtful talk. Proof of the heaps of support out there for anyone hoping to make all feel welcome on their learning journey.