The linguistic integration of adult migrants: from one country to another, from one language to another
Our education systems are not very good at teaching us to cope with paradoxes, and the linguistic integration of migrants provides an illustration of the fact. Yet, as societies we are too often sceptical and even suspiciouso f those speaking language other than that spoken by the majority of our fellow countrymen and women. Using 'foreign languages' and speaking the majority language imperfectly or with an accent are seen as indications of foreigness. Whereas a couple of generations at least some kinds of foreignness might have been seen as something pleasantly exotic , our societies today increasingly seem to equate 'foreign' and 'threat'.
Many people seem to think that, if other people come to our country, the least the can do is to 'become like us'. The call for linguistic integration of migrants is therefore strong but it is often a call for assimilation rather than for integration. The need for a common language of communication in a society is of course not in the dispute, nor is the need for those who move across borders to learn the language (s) of societies in which they settle. As this publication makes very clear, howeve,r integrating culturally and linguistically into a new society does not require giving up one's own identity- on the contrary.
We would in fact do well to remember that identities are rarely singular, even for those who live their whole lives in the country of birth. Most of us emphasise different aspects of our identity in different circumstances. If we are in our home town, we may think of ourselves as being from a particular part in town, but if we are with people from all over the country, we are more likely to identify ourselves as being from a particular city or region and, if we travel abroad, our national identity may be the one we feel most strongly. There is no contradiction there- these are all different aspects of our multifaceted identities.
As the authors of this volume make clear, developing proficiency in the majority language can facilitate integration, and the acquisition of competences is generally done at different levels and in different ways. Migrants may fear that the language to be learnt will 'drive out' their mother tongue for functional reasons and lead to the loss of a 'sense of belonging'. Coming to appreciate and feel at ease in a new culture should, however, not imply cutting one's bonds to the culture (s) in which one grew up.