11th Language and Development Conference, 2015

The 11th Language and Development Conference was held for the first time in India from November 18–20 2015 at The Lalit hotel in New Delhi, supported by the Ministry of Rural Development, UNESCO, Research Councils UK, the National Multilingual Education Research Consortium (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and the Digital Empowerment Foundation. The conference theme was Multilingualism and Development.

The event was the largest of the conference series so far, attracting over 260 participants and with a programme of more than sixty sessions. Over 30 countries were represented, from Afghanistan to South Africa, Bhutan to the Philippines. Feedback from across the board suggests that the conference was a resounding success, bringing together researchers, policymakers and practitioners from a wide variety of contexts.

The conference organisers envision an ongoing programme of engagement led by the participants as a result of the discussions and debates that took place during the three days. More information about the legacy programme can be found below, along with links to recordings of featured sessions and interviews with some of the speakers. Further content will be uploaded on this website in the coming days.


The first conference was held in Bangkok, Thailand in 1993 and this began what was to become the biannual series: Bali, Indonesia (1995), Langkawi, Malaysia (1997), Hanoi, Vietnam (1999), Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2001), Tashkent, Uzbekistan (2003), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2005) and Dhaka, Bangladesh (2009), Colombo, Sri Lanka (2011), Cape Town, South Africa (2013).

Past partners and funding agencies include the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), the Indonesia Australia Language Foundation (IALF) and the Australian Government (AusAID). In each case the conference was partnered by key government ministries of the host country.

You can find more about the previous conferences here.

Conference theme

Linguistic and cultural diversity is a fact of life in developing countries - in India as elsewhere. With this in mind, the theme of the 11th conference was Multilingualism and Development. The sub themes were as follows: 

Multilingualism and the metropolis

  • Identifying and describing the linguistic implications of urbanisation
  • The benefits of linguistic hyper-diversity
  • Linguistic barriers experienced by migrant populations in urban contexts
  • How schools, health clinics and other government services cater to speakers of dozens of different languages in super-diverse urban contexts
  • The practice of Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MTB MLE) – and the capacity of schools to provide it – in multilingual urban contexts
  • Social division as an unintended consequence of MTB MLE in multilingual contexts
  • Multilingualism in semi-urban and urban non-metropolitan contexts

Language, technology and multi-literacies

  • Digital media as a threat or opportunity for minority languages
  • Digital media and non-Latin-based writing systems
  • The use of digital media at times of crisis and natural disasters, especially in multilingual societies
  • Digital media and language choice in education
  • Digital literacy, language and gender

Multilingualism, marginalisation and empowerment

  • The tension between ideas of ‘development’ and formal education systems
  • Educating girls and empowering women in multilingual societies
  • Endangered languages and endangered livelihoods
  • Language, identity and violence
  • The role of parents in multilingual contexts
  • Multilingualism in rural contexts, particularly in the context of accessing markets
  • Prospects for indigenous peoples and speakers of minority languages in multilingual nations
  • The role of English in multilingual developing countries: empowering or marginalising?
  • Describing and responding to the phenomenon of low cost private English-medium schools catering to the economically marginalised

Knowledge partners

The 11th Language and Development Conference would not have been possible without the generous support and assistance from our partners:

Plenary speakers

  • Prof Ajit Mohanty, ICSSR National Fellow, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India and Founder Director of National Multilingual Education Resource Consortium - Multilingualism, education, English and development: whose development?
  • Prof Birgit Brock-Utne, Professor of Education, University of Oslo, Norway - Multilingualism in Africa: marginalisation and empowerment 
  • Dr James Simpson, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Leeds, UK - Translanguaging in the contact zone: language use in superdiverse urban areas
  • Osama Manzar, Founder Director, Digital Empowerment Foundation, India - Digital media and the internet: threats or opportunities for local languages, culture and knowledge?
  • Dr Rukmini Banerjee, CEO, Pratham Education Foundation, India) - Language and learning: the challenges of primary education in India 
  • Prof Srikant Sarangi, Professor in Humanities & Medicine, Aalborg University, Denmark) - Mind the gap: ‘communicative vulnerability’ and the mediation of linguistic/cultural diversity in healthcare delivery

Featured speakers I

  • Dr A. Giridhar Rao (Azim Premji University, India) - The (illusory) promise of English in India: democracy, language and marginalization
  • John Simpson (British Council Rwanda) - Moving from Monolingual Models to Plurilingual Practices in African Classrooms and Lizzi O. Milligan (University of Bath, UK) - Exploring the Potential for Language Supportive Learning in English: A Rwandan Case Study
  • Tejshree Auckle (University of Mauritius) - The Inclusion of Vernacular Languages in an English-Dominant Education System: Mauritian Creole and Bhojpuri and the Politics of Ethnicity in Multilingual Mauritius
  • Baela Jamil and Saba Saeed (Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, Pakistan) - Reflections on Access and Learning within the Low Cost Private English Medium Sector in Pakistan
  • Sozinho Francisco Matsinhe (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa) - Multilingualism, Marginalisation and Empowerment in Africa with Special Reference to Southern Africa: Dynamics, Good Practices and Paradoxes
  • Megan Davies (Serve Afghanistan) - Empowerment of the Pashai of Afghanistan through Language Development and Multilingual Education
  • Carol Benson (Columbia University, USA) - Empowering Non-dominant Languages and Cultures through Multilingual Curriculum Development
  • Juldyz Smagulova and Elise Ahn (KIMEP University, Kazakhstan) - Medium of Instruction, Literacy and Educational Equity: Survey of Almaty High School Students

Featured speakers II

  • Zubeida Desai (University of the Western Cape, South Africa) - Learning through the Medium of English in Multilingual South Africa: Enabling or Disabling Learners? and Haroon Mahomed (Department of Basic Education, South Africa) and Caroline Grant (British Council Nigeria) - Strengthening the Incremental Introduction of African Languages: Empowering or Marginalising South African Learners?
  • Kirk Person (SIL International) - The Multilingual Education Working Group and Recent Language-in-Education Policy Developments in Southeast Asia
  • Anuradha Kanniganti (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations, France) - Language and Inequality in India: English for All or Empowerment of Indian Languages?
  • Bonny Norton (University of British Columbia, Canada) and Mary McKenna (Nepal Education Support Trust) - The African Storybook Project and its Impact in Nepal and the Global Community
  • Martin Benjamin (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland) - Excluded Linguistic Communities and the Production of an Inclusive Multilingual Digital Language Infrastructure
  • Thaiyamuthu Thanaraj (Open University of Sri Lanka), Chandra Gunawardena (Open University of Sri Lanka) and M.B.Ekanayake - Multilingualism: A Viable Strategy to Forge National Harmony and Social Cohesion? A Sri Lankan Case
  • Sayeedur Rahman (University of Dhaka, Bangladesh) - Women, English and Empowerment: Voices from Rural Bangladesh

Featured events

Ministerial panel: Government Responses to Multilingualism – featuring speakers from Sri Lanka, South Africa, Bhutan and Ethiopia. Panel chaired by Carol Benson.

Panel discussion: Multilingualism in India: Where Are We Now? – featuring Minati Panda, Giridhar Rao

Debate: Motion – ‘English medium instruction does not bring the benefits that people expect’ – featuring Lizzi Milligan, Hywel Coleman, Negussie Negash Yadete and Baela Jamil. Debate chaired by John Knagg.

Book launch: Language and Social Cohesion – featuring S.Perera, T.Thanaraj, Hywel Coleman, F.T.Croos, Bonny Norton

Conference interviews

  • Featured speaker and debating team member Baela Jamil (Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, Pakistan)
  • Ministerial Panel member Maheshi Weerasuriya (Ministry of Education, Sri Lanka)
  • Plenary speaker Srikant Sarangi (Danish Institute of Humanities and Medicine at Aalborg University) 
  • Featured speaker Kirk Person (SIL International and member of UNESCO Bangkok’s Multilingual Education Working Group)
  • Featured speaker Sozinho Francisco Matsinhe (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa)
  • Featured speaker and debating team member Lizzi Milligan (University of Bath, UK)
  • Debate chair and Language and Development Conference Series Trustee John Knagg (British Council)
  • Knowledge partner Neena Jha (Digital Empowerment Foundation) 
  • Featured speaker Bonny Norton (University of British Columbia, Canada) 
  • Language and Development Conference Series Trustee and Academic Advisor for the 11th conference Hywel Coleman

Legacy programme

Following up on the 11th Language and Development Conference that we hosted in New Delhi in November 2015, the British Council organised a partners’ conclave on 12 January 2016 in its office in New Delhi. The objectives for the conclave were to:

  • have a shared understanding of the impact of the New Delhi conference
  • have a shared understanding of the action and research agendas emerging out of the conference and provide partners an opportunity to state their interest in pursuing these agendas
  • have an opportunity to comment on the New Delhi conference programme and make recommendations for subsequent conferences in the series
  • discuss possible directions for the legacy programme
  • agree on next steps. 

The conclave was attended not only by representatives of the official knowledge partners of the conference, but also other organisations interested in the legacy programme. We had representation from the Ministry of Rural Development (Government of India); National Multilingual Education Resource Centre of the Jawaharlal Nehru University; Digital Empowerment Foundation, UNESCO, UNICEF, Pratham ASER, Regional English Language Office of the US in India and Bhasha Research Centre.

The conclave began with a brief introduction to the Language and Development conference series with a focus on the impact of the 11th conference in New Delhi. You can access a presentation on impact here (ppt,3mb).

Hywel Coleman, Trustee and the academic consultant for the 11th conference led on the discussion on themes emerging from the conference which will, in turn, inform the legacy programme.

The seven cross cutting themes that came across form feedback from conference speakers and delegates were: 

  • Terminology 
  • Language use in multilingual contexts 
  • Practice of mother tongue based multilingual education 
  • Low cost English medium education 
  • Service provision in multilingual 
  • Future Language and Development 
  • "We are not alone"

We had a very fruitful discussion with the organisations present which covered a range of topics which generated a lot of ideas on working together to pursue the themes above, how we share the resources around the themes and the way forward.

For more information on the legacy programme arising out of the 11th Language & Development Conference, please write to Vernon.Dsouza@britishcouncil.org or Debanjan.Chakrabarti@britishcouncil.org

Related events

During the proceedings, participants shared information about several upcoming events and symposiums following similar themes to the 11th Language and Development Conference. Details of these events will be added below. If you would like information about an event added to this list, please write to us at LDC2015@in.britishcouncil.org