Discourses on language and integration

Discourses on language and integration: Critical perspectives on language testing regimes in Europe. Ed. by Gabrielle Hogan-Brun, Clare Mar-Molinero, and Patrick Stevenson. (Discourse approaches to politics, society and culture 33.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. xiv, 170. ISBN 9789027206237. $135 (Hb).

Reviewed by Esther Núñez Villanueva, Bangor University

Europe is reinforcing its defenses with a new tool: the national language. Language and culture tests are spreading across the European Union (EU) as the compulsory requirements to enter, reside in, or become a citizen of some of its countries are becoming stricter.

One of the problems surrounding language tests in Europe is that there is no pan-European consensus on the policies to govern their content and administration, which vary wildly from country to country. In contrast, this volume seeks a cross-national perspective, helping to identify the trends spreading through Europe. The editors discuss the goals of the volume and the current European political trends in their introductory chapter, Ch. 1 ‘Testing regime: Introducing cross-national perspectives on language, migration, and citizenship’ (1–14). In Ch. 2, ‘Fortress Europe? Language policy regimes for immigration and citizenship’ (15–44), Piet Van Avermaet’s comprehensive comparison of the different entry requirements highlights the striking differences in language level thresholds and the price of tests across EU member states.

Elana Shohamy argues that language tests for obtaining citizenship represent a discriminating and arbitrary strategy used by states to exert control over the composition of the population in Ch. 3 ‘Language tests for immigrants: Why language? Why tests? Why citizenship?’ (45–60). Ch. 4, ‘Language, migration and citizenship: A case study on testing regimes in the Netherlands’ (61–82), by Guus Extra and Massimiliano Spotti evaluates the three types of tests designed to attain admission, integration, and citizenship in the Netherlands, one of the strictest testing regimes in Europe. The authors then question the rationale and validity of the Dutch culture test after administering the test to native-born Dutch citizens.

Chs. 5–6 focus on the discourse analysis of political texts about immigration. In Ch. 5, ‘Being English, speaking English: Extension to English language testing legislation and the future of multicultural Britain’ (83–108), Adrian Blackledge discusses how the discourse about diversity and integration in Britain has started to associate the use of minority languages as a threat to social cohesion. Kristine Horner focuses on the vagueness of the concept of integration in the current politics of Luxembourg in Ch. 6, ‘Language, citizenship and Europeanization: Unpacking the discourse of integration’ (109–28). In both cases, it seems that integration is simultaneously understood as a common supra-identity at the EU-level and as a means of assimilating non-EU citizens.

Brigitta Busch, in Ch. 7 ‘Local actors in promoting multilingualism’ (129–52), analyzes the role of local institutions as unofficial language policy-makers when deciding their approach to a multilingual society. According to the author, institutions such as the Vienna public library can adapt inclusive language policies that foster social cohesion even when the political discourse is of an exclusive nature.

The concluding chapter by Tim McNamara, ‘Language tests and social policy: A commentary’ (153–64), is a thought-provoking commentary on the other contributions, relating them to second language teaching and testing in the context of immigration and citizenship.

There are serious ethical issues surrounding the use of language and culture tests for citizenship in relation to the nature, quality, and purpose of these assessments. Linguists and educational experts are urged to be aware of these issues and to promote a more realistic approach to second language learning, language tests, and citizenship requirements.