Bridging Language Barriers Symposium

By December 16, 2016News

Feb 16, 2017: ***Program update now available here***

Despite their commitment to diversity and equality of access, contemporary multicultural societies and their institutions struggle to find effective ways to overcome linguistic disadvantage and break down language barriers. Today’s diverse societies comprise people with a wide range of linguistic proficiencies while institutions often continue to operate through the monolingual standard language. This mismatch can create significant barriers to social cohesion, educational success, employment opportunities and community participation.

A one-day symposium at Macquarie University asks how such language barriers can best be bridged.

Bridging Language Barriers Symposium

When: Thursday, March 16, 2017

Where: Macquarie University


The focus of the symposium will be on innovative German and Australian research that engages with the social and cultural challenges resulting from linguistic diversity. Due to migration and globalization, speakers of different languages no longer live in isolation but are increasingly in contact with each other. Even so, a pervasive monolingual mindset in many contexts has meant that institutions have been slow to recognize the challenges of multilingualism for full participation. Concerted and systematic efforts to bridge institutional language barriers to full and equal participation for those from non-dominant language backgrounds are largely lacking.

The negative impacts of language barriers contribute to group segregation and are connected to exclusion from full and equal social participation in education, employment and other spheres of social life. In fact, the language barriers faced by multilinguals in monolingual institutions often remain invisible and unacknowledged as “communication” is tacitly equated with monolingual language use; and “communication breakdown” is often assumed to be the sole responsibility of social outsiders rather than the joint responsibility of everyone within the inherently cooperative processes of communication.

The symposium will have a particular focus on linguistic barriers in educational institutions, where minority students face the double challenge of having to learn a new language while also learning academic content through the medium of that new language. If limited linguistic proficiency in the dominant language is misrecognized as poor academic performance, long-term negative consequences such as limited career prospects and social alienation may result. Language barriers must therefore be understood holistically as barriers to social participation more broadly; and strategies for overcoming language barriers must be located at the intersection of institutional language policies and wider social participation in groups and networks.


Against this background, the symposium has three aims:

  • To showcase German and Australian research that examines the nature and consequences of language barriers in educational institutional contexts, and at the intersection of formal and informal participation.
  • To highlight positive experiences and practices that serve to mitigate linguistic barriers to full and equitable formal and informal participation.
  • To explore the possibilities for joint action on the basis of research conducted by the two partner institutions of Hamburg University and Macquarie University.

Keynote speakers

Funded by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) under a partnership grant between Hamburg University and Macquarie University, we are delighted to welcome Professor Ingrid Gogolin and Professor Drorit Lengyel, both from Hamburg University, as keynote speakers.

Professor Ingrid Gogolin

Ingrid Gogolin is Professor of Comparative and Intercultural Education at the University of Hamburg, where she heads the research group “Diversity in Education Research” together with Drorit Lengyel. She is also the coordinator of the German National Research Cluster “Language Education and Multilingualism” funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. Her research focuses on migration and linguistic diversity in education. One of her current major projects takes a longitudinal perspective on the multilingual development in German, Russian and Turkish as home languages and English and French as foreign languages of over 1,800 high school students.

Ingrid Gogolin is well-known to Australian audiences due to her work on the monolingual mindset with the late Michael Clyne and we are delighted to be able to welcome her back to Australia.

Professor Drorit Lengyel

Drorit Lengyel is Professor of Education in Multilingual Contexts at the University of Hamburg and she heads the research group “Diversity in Education Research” together with Ingrid Gogolin. Her research focuses on language in early childhood education and language education (Sprachbildung) between the school and the home. She is also an expert in teacher training, where her focus is on preparing teachers to work under conditions of rapid social and cultural change. One of her current major projects is a longitudinal study of the effects of coordinated German and home language programs for children (and their parents) in the primary years.

Would you like to be part of the Bridging Language Barriers symposium?

We still have a few slots for presenters who wish to present their relevant research. If you would like to be considered as a presenter, please send a 200-word abstract to [email protected] by January 31, 2017.

Attendance will be free but numbers are limited. To avoid disappointment, watch this space and subscribe to our newsletter in the footer line so that you will not miss out on any announcements. The full program and a sign-up facility will be made available in February.

For those who are interested in participating but unable to attend on the day, Language on the Move will host a range of related online discussions and forums throughout February and March 2017. Our Twitter hashtag will be #LOTM2017.

Organizing committee

Ingrid Piller (chair), Agnes Bodis, Alexandra Grey, Awatif Alshammri, Gegentuul Baioud, Hanna Torsh, Jinhyun Cho, Laura Smith-Khan, Li Jia, Livia Gerber, Loy Lising, Rahel Cramer, Shiva Motaghi Tabari, Vera W. Tetteh, Yining Wang