The study of heritage languages – the languages spoken by immigrant families at home – will come under the microscope with the advent of a new organisation.
The Heritage Language Consortium, a strategic partnership for the study of heritage languages in Europe, involves six leading universities in the UK, Germany and Portugal, as well as the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed at a ceremony in Lisbon to officially launch the Consortium. The launch event featured statements by the Secretary of State for the Portuguese Communities, Dr José Luís Carneiro, by the Secretary of State for Education, Professor João Costa, by the President of the Camões Institute, Ambassador Luís Faro Ramos, and by the Consortium’s Director, Dr Patrick Rebuschat, from Lancaster University's Department of Linguistics and English Language.
Portugal maintains a heritage language network across 85 countries for the families of Portuguese citizens, the world over. This enables children to improve their heritage language with qualified teachers who go into schools to run approved language programmes funded by the Portuguese government.
The new Heritage Language Consortium gives researchers from many disciplines – linguistics, education, psychology, and computer science – access to more than 130,000 learners worldwide to investigate language development from many different aspects. At Lancaster, the Department of Linguistics and English Language and the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) will play a central role.
The Consortium Director, Dr Patrick Rebuschat, said: “This strategic partnership provides us with a unique opportunity – no other country maintains such a significant heritage language network overseas, and we will have privileged access to substantial, yet completely unexplored data.
“The Consortium is a major international initiative which uses Portuguese as a ‘test case’. The insights gained from this project will be applicable to other languages, of course. Our research will help us understand how children and adults learn new languages and identify those factors that make some of us particularly good language learners. We can then use these insights to improve language teaching.
“The Consortium will also organize impact and outreach initiatives to engage with parents, teachers, and policy makers across Europe.”
Professor Steve Bradley, Lancaster University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International), said: “This important initiative demonstrates again Lancaster’s strong international outlook and our commitment to playing a leading role in research that impacts lives, communities, and educational practices across the globe. The Consortium will provide unique opportunities for Lancaster’s staff and students to be involved in a research area that is of particular significance to Europe today.”
The idea for the consortium was born earlier this year when the Portuguese Secretary of State for Education, Professor João Costa, visited Lancaster University to deliver a keynote at a conference organized by Dr Rebuschat.
The event focused on bilingualism and heritage language education across Europe.
It brought together policy makers from the Portuguese Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education, leading academics, journalists, school teachers and parents to discuss current trends and challenges in heritage language research and education.
Lancaster University is renowned for its research in the language sciences and is currently ranked 19th in the world for linguistics according to the 2017 QS Rankings.