Migrants and the Language of Instruction: Is the EU Policy Deficit Driving New Innovations in Social Inclusion?

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Cullen, J. (2017). Migrants and the Language of Instruction: Is the EU Policy Deficit Driving New Innovations in Social Inclusion? International Review of Education, 63(4), 453-474.


In his article “Migrants and the Language of Instruction: Is the EU Policy Deficit Driving New Innovations in Social Inclusion?” Joe Cullen explores an important question regarding language policy for migrants in Europe. He starts out by exploring two major initiatives of the European Union: Action Plan on Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity and the European Charter for Minority Languages. He suggests that the motivating force of the Action Plan is to be economically competitive while the motivating force of the Charter is human rights-orientated in the protection of languages. He provides an assessment of the implementation of these policies through a documentation analysis and notes that in the implementation of the Education sector of these policies has been uneven and slow. Cullen explores some of the reasons why education policy for migrants is not well-developed and notes that studies suggest it is due to an insufficient amount of teachers, courses, funding prioritization by governments, or emphasis on languages besides English. He links policy changes to shifts in political climates, the economy and views of the welfare systems in Europe. Some of the ways different EU countries view social inclusion and welfare are explored. Cullen also notes that besides these views there are three distinct underlying discourses that include: a “moral underclass” discourse, a “social integrationist” discourse and a “redistributive” discourse. Cullen claims that the three discourses are converging under neo-liberalism. He further suggests that the support traditionally given from the government is now being transferred over either to the responsibilities of the private sector or of the individuals themselves.

According to Cullen, social inclusion and welfare is partially seen as the responsibility of the individual, and is allocated based on a risk assessment. Those who are determined to be “at-risk” for social exclusion are given welfare almost as a punitive measure and reflects the discourse as migrants as a problem that must be fixed. They are given obligatory assistance to avoid social exclusion and to integrate them into society. Cullen claims that the new climate of social inclusion policy has taken a step backwards towards neo-liberalism. It is argued that while the discourses regarding social inclusion and language policies have offered less language support provisions, they have also offered opportunities for social innovations through top-down and bottom-up initiatives. He provides a variety of examples of programs initiated not by governmental bodies but rather by third-sector organizations or “social entrepreneurs” which cater specifically to migrants. Cullen notes that while it is not yet clear whether these social innovations to support social inclusion through language are effective, they do show a great amount of potential.


Cullen makes a point to not only mention that language-learning has a significant impact on social inclusion but that supporting heritage languages is educationally advantageous and bolsters cultural capital and self-confidence in young migrants. This is supported by the concept of plurilingualism which is grounded in a dynamic view of bilingualism, that “involves a much more dynamic cycle where language practices are multiple and ever adjusting to the multilingual multimodal terrain of the communicative act” (Garcia, p. 53). It is significant that Cullen mentions it because it is at the core of the European policies regarding linguistic diversity and bilingualism.

I appreciated the fact that Cullen presents two ways of viewing the failures of policy implementation on language learning. The first is a pessimistic one that relates the withering interest in linguistic diversity to economics and neo-liberalism. Harris, Leung and Rampton state that since the 1980s, there were significant links between neo-liberal market philosophy and education policy in England (p. 10). Pierre Bourdieu defined neo-liberalism as “a programme for destroying collective structures which may impede the pure market logic” (Holborow, p. 2) which is why I think Cullen presents an intriguing alternate view. The second view is more optimistic and claims that the lack of implementation of language policies has created opportunities for innovation in social inclusion. He considers the breakdown of these structures as an opportunity for innovation and choice. Holborow similarly suggests that English has the potential to be used in resistance to neo-liberalism (pp. 8-9). In his claim that the lack of policy offers room for innovation, Cullen engages in a pluralist discourse by approaching linguistic diversity as a “potential force for social change” (DeJong, p. 100). He includes examples of programs initiated by the individuals themselves, which affords them a certain amount of autonomy and control in their learning.

A question I had regarding this article was Cullen’s connection between a nation’s approach to welfare and social security and the effects on language learning policy. Cullen acknowledges a study that disagrees with one of his premises: “A review of the literature suggests that the link between different kinds of welfare systems and social inclusion approaches – for example the management of immigration – is inconclusive (Souto-Otero & Villalba-Garcia, 2015). However … there does appear to be some relationship between the prevailing economic system, the welfare system and subsequent approaches to social inclusion” (Cullen, p. 461). Cullen continues to develop his argument based on the premise that this link exists. I would have appreciated more engagement of this discrepancy or if he offered additional research that supported his view. Is there a clear link between the type of welfare systems and how migrants are integrated into society? What sort of implications does the language policy have on social integration under these different welfare systems? The following paragraphs do detail some of the more specific ways different European nations approach social inclusion grouped by their political-economic orientations. Cullen later delves deeper, past these welfare structures at the macro-level and explores underlying discourses regarding social inclusion.


Cullen’s article provides an overview of some of the interweaving components that contribute to the efficacy of language policies on social inclusion in the European Union. Policy, politics, discourses and economics are explored. I was particularly interested in this article because it explores the role neo-liberalism plays in language policy and linguistic diversity in the EU. The text details a selection of programs that support migrants and their linguistic development. This article would be appropriate for an individual interested learning more about the effectiveness of the current language policies in the European Union and more specific information regarding views of linguistic diversity and language policies at the national level within Europe.


Cullen, J. (2017). Migrants and the Language of Instruction: Is the EU Policy Deficit Driving New Innovations in Social Inclusion? International Review of Education, 63(4), 453-474.

DeJong, E.J. (2013). Policy discourses and U.S. language in education policies. Peabody Journal of Education, 88(1), 98-111.

Garcia, O. (2009). Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. Malden MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Harris, R., Leung, C., Rampton, B. (2001) Globalization, Diaspora and Language Education in England. Working Papers in Urban Language & Literacies. London, UK: King’s College London.

Holborow, M. (2006), Ideology and Language: the Interconnections Between Neo- liberalism and English, Retrieved August 25, 2013 from http://firgoa.usc.es/drupal/node/29985.

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