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Language(s) and the Church May 22, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in multilingualism, Statistics.
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I’m excited to be researching attitudes to languages within the UK Church …and (where appropriate) how to change them.

In 2014 the Church of England gathered a lot of statistics about the diversity of it’s congregations and published a report called “Everyone Counts“.
So far as I look at websites and reports from many different church denominations and agencies it seems that although there is a lot of data gathered, language isn’t something that gets talked about much.

This is despite the fact that over 300 languages are spoken by people living in the UK. This is despite the fact that 17% of children in schools in England come from a home where English is not the first language.

For the general population the spread of languages other than English looks something like this…

…the number of languages and the number of people speaking them vary considerably from place to place.

According to data from an interactive parish map, provided by the Research and Statistics unit of the Church of England, the town I was born in is still 98.3% white and 73.7% defined themselves as Christian in the 2011 census. Another Church of England website Presence and Engagement helps to identify and serve parishes through identifying the proportion of other religions (just enter your postcode).

Neither of these sites currently tells me about languages spoken (P&E has a page on resources in other languages) . Other census data suggests 98% of people said their main language was English and an email revealed at least 16 different languages represented in the town’s schools.

2011 Census reports from the UK Office for National Statistics

In multicultural society, ethnicity, country of birth, and language are very different things which is why I’d like to have been surprised that so few churches and organisations seem to have paid much attention to the languages people speak.

In part, that may be due to the many other things rightly clamouring for attention but perhaps also that if people speak English to a high level of proficiency then language is not perceived to be a barrier. I’m hoping my research and discussions will encourage people to see that language is more than an obstacle.

After many travels around the world I’m now living just half an hour away from where I grew up, in a town which is much more diverse in terms of languages spoken at home (over 80). So far I’ve identified ten spoken by people in the churches, but I’m looking forward to hearing out about more.

Now available…
Five ways to use other languages (a bit) in your church.

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