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This report is taken from PN Review 141, Volume 28 Number 1, September - October 2001.

Attending to the Curriculum John Welch

When John Townend MP reignited the multicultural debate not long before the general election - though you might say that in the event it sputtered rather than blazed - one of his suggestions was that 'these languages should be phased out'. He was referring of course to Asian languages widely spoken in the UK. But quite how does one 'phase out' a language? Welsh, by all accounts, was beaten out of schoolchildren - but whether it was one of the languages to be included in the 'phasing out' process wasn't clear. Mother Tongues, a book-length anthology which has appeared as Issue 17 of Modern Poetry in Translation guest-edited by Stephen Watts, gives a comprehensive overview of the wealth of poetry being written here in Britain in Asian and other languages, and the book contains, as well as translations of the poems themselves, much interesting background material. I was working for the English Language Service in an East London Borough when, back in the early 1980s, Urdu was first offered as a Modern Languages option in local secondary schools. Of course introducing these languages into the curriculum was part of the 'multicultural initiative'. My own schools' anthology of South Asian literature Stories from South Asia, which appeared from OUP in 1988, was another fruit of this initiative. It was only after I had started to work at our English Language Centre, where one of my jobs was developing a collection of resources, that I became aware of the enormous wealth ...


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