Learning The Lingo: Are Language Schools An Integration Panacea?
An objective and informative media is arguably the key to harmonious cities.

The July/August 2016 issue of the increasingly peerless Monocle magazine contains a small but provocative article that has been rebounding around our collective head ever since we read it: Learning the lingo ('LTL'). The main thrust of LTL is that cities need to allocate more resources to language schools as a means of enabling socioeconomic and cultural integration; Monocle itself has used integration as a criterion for ranking urban areas in this year's edition of its Top 25 liveable cities survey.

This is a welcome observation: it is true that learning the language of a host country is vital to the successful integration of immigrants, whether they are refugees fleeing a war zone or stockbrokers fleeing a tax band. And language schools can play a key and welcome role in facilitating the rapid acclimatisation of incomers to their new environment.

However, after some contemplation, we at Mediolana remain slightly sceptical as to whether a paucity of language skills is ultimately a major stumbling block to integration; in the context of exam results in which immigrants and/or their children routinely academically outperform their hosts (notwithstanding experiencing disadvantages which those with a non-immigrant background can scarcely fathom), this makes almost no sense at all.

A far more likely cause of friction between people of different ethnic, national and/or linguistic origins is a media culture which not only incessantly and artificially polarises people into different 'camps' (left/right, liberal/conservative, religious/secular, native/foreigner ad infinitum), but which all but ignores everything which does not fit into these implausible dichotomies. In particular, too many journalists (and the general public whom they influence) appear unwilling – it cannot be that they are unable – to recognise the following realities:

  1. Immigrants are succeeding. Large and defining sections of the media would have us believe – in 2016, no less – that the immigrant experience, particularly though not exclusively in Western Europe, is one of burnt-out banlieues, marauding Levantines and perennially suspect Poles. What they consistently omit to tell us is that various diverse immigrant groups are edging – in some cases, trouncing – their ethnic majority counterparts in the arena of academic attainment. Indian and Chinese students outscore their English peers by some distance. The top-performing school in France in 2013 was an Islamic-denominated institution attended in the main by Arabic-origin students; the following year, France's top-performing high school student was the daughter of a Moroccan factory worker. Vietnamese children in Germany are the prodigies of the Bundesrepublik. But these inconvenient facts – a matter of public record – are somehow not deemed worthy of mass consumption.
  2. Diversity means diversity. One of the more invidious trends of recent years has been the pseudo-moral arbitration function assumed by some media organs, who have suddenly discovered one or more sets of core values that everyone simply must adhere to; non-compliance with said values 'proves' the 'inferiority' of the 'deviant', who is sometimes even branded as a 'threat' to be neutralised. However, hyperventilating fear of mere non-violent ideas and opinions seems fundamentally inapposite in the twenty-first century: a world of deep globalisation is going to throw together all kinds of people with vastly different life experiences and perspectives. Yet journalists who can grapple with the question of how to make the most of this richness are still notable by their extreme scarcity.
  3. Net emigration signals decline. History tells us one thing time and time again in the context of migration: when you are leaking people, you have a serious problem. And both the United States and the European Union do have a serious problem: their chief sources of abundant labour – Mexico and Turkey respectively – have been net migration inflow (and finance outflow) countries since the turn of the decade. This is indicative of at least three things: (i) the economic growth levels in both the US and EU are anaemic; (ii) this is repelling potential and current immigrants; and (iii) if these trends continue, serious systemic failure is only a matter of time. The media as a whole needs to realise that whatever challenges immigration may throw up, the alternative of sustained net emigration means relegation to the second tier of nations; this is the most compelling integration motive of all.