Educating “Bilingual” Children in Spain and Denmark – Podcast and Paper

I spoke at the Language, Translation and Migration conference at Warwick University on the 24th May 2018. The title was “Educating ‘Bilingual’ Chldren in Spain and Denmark: Childhood Bilingualism as Opportunity or Constraint.” The paper is available on A recording of my presentation can be listened to here.

The abstract is as follows:

This paper examines how the word ‘bilingual’ has acquired vastly divergent politicised meanings in contemporary Spanish and Danish discourses on childhood education, social mobility, migration and integration. In the former, it tends to denote competence in a foreign language. In the latter it refers to relative lack of competence in the national language. The two conceptions of ‘bilingualism as opportunity or constraint are thus positive and negative, in an evaluative and descriptive sense. In Spain, ‘bilingualism’ is a marker of success and upward social mobility, in Denmark it is an obstacle to the same. Language comes to stand for class and ethnicity, as well as integration into (in Spain) a transnational elite and (in Denmark) the national community. In Spain, ‘bilingualism’ is constituted as a personal and public good to be developed through education, hence the recent proliferation of ‘bilingual’ schools. In Denmark, it is an ill to be eradicated through the education system. Spanish parents and politicians want their children to become ‘bilingual’, above all, in English, which represents global power, progress, modernity, and recovery from imperial decline. In Denmark, fluency in English is widespread and not associated with ‘bilingualism’. The mostly Middle Eastern, South Asian and African languages that pose the ‘bilingualism’ problem in Denmark are linked with backwardness, poverty and ignorance. With the strong historical link between ethnic nationalism and the Danish/Scandinavian welfare state model, failing to address the problem posed by ‘bilingualism’ threatens the survival of the state as a community of shared values embodied in a strongly monolingual conception of the nation. In both cases, the supposed objectives are unlikely to be met and are not ultimately grounded on language and bilingualism as such. The different meanings ‘bilingualism’has acquired in the two countries have their historical origins in the nature of their particular early-modern composite monarchical states, the rise and demise of their colonial empires, and their respective 20th century experiences of modernising authoritarianism and welfare capitalism.