The paradoxes of language learning and integration in the European context

Ros i Sole, Cristina. 2014. The paradoxes of language learning and integration in the European context. In: David Mallows, ed. Language issues in migration and integration: perspectives from teachers and learners. London: British Council, pp. 55-78. ISBN 9780863557378 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

In a recent communication from the European Commission it was stated that: ‘It is broadly agreed that the acquisition of language skills is critical for integration.’ (European Commission 2011:4)

Here, language skills refers to the acquisition of the host language. But is the learning of the national language key for integration in a host society? When and how should this language learning take place? What role should government policies take in the matter? These are some of the questions that surround the issue of language learning and its role in the integration of migrants. Although the integration of migrants in host countries has been an issue of debate for a long time, it is only more recently that national languages have become a key issue in these processes.

Indeed, increasingly, the learning of the national language has become a cornerstone of integration policy in the EU, and the knowledge of the ‘host’ language is seen as a barometer of migrants’ integration in a particular society. Policies in a variety of European countries are making language tests and so-called ‘knowledge of society’ a compulsory requirement to enter, settle or apply for citizenship, so that full rights and access to jobs, education and social life is closely linked to language proficiency. A number of socio-linguistic studies (HoganBrun, Mar-Molinero and Stevenson, 2009; Avermaet, 2009; Extra and Spotti, 2009), however, point out that European integration policies may not fully reflect the complexity and needs of today’s multilingual migrants and their increasing cosmopolitan and transnational realities.

This chapter presents a review of the literature on the relationship between language learning and integration of migrants in the European context that highlights the paradoxes of promoting national models of integration in an increasingly transnational and diverse Europe. It takes a critical approach to discourses on the relationship between language learning and integration by
looking at the role of language learning in ‘official’ processes of integration. In order to do this, it reviews studies and reports on governmental policies on integration across Europe, the execution of these policies and how scholarly literature has reflected on it. At the same time, it looks at the why and how of the increasing relationship between language learning and integration in political discourses by relating it to how societal events are interpreted by politicians and their impact on policies.

The documents reviewed include academic publications such as book monographs and specialist journals, official and institutional reports, governmental legislation and studies, and collaborations between community organisations and academics. Moreover, this review tries to balance information from quantitative sources (such as statistics from online tools that analyse migrant integration indexes in Europe) and qualitative sources (such as analyses of political speeches). Although the issues addressed in this study concern and are contextualised in Europe, it will concentrate on the specific examples of three EU countries to illustrate the points: the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

Item Type:

Book Section


language acquisition, integration, immigration, EU, policy

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies



Item ID:


Date Deposited:

26 Mar 2018 12:16

Last Modified:

01 Jun 2020 09:54


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