Nowadays, there is a really significant number of people who live somewhere other than their native country: according to the 2020 International Organization for Migration (IOM) Report, in June 2019, 272 million people across the world were estimated to have migrated. Out of that total, almost two-thirds had relocated due to work-related reasons.
This data turns out to be extremely relevant: linguistic issues can undoubtedly make the difference between success and failure. So, what is the importance of knowing how to communicate for someone setting out to live abroad?
The Crucial Input of Newcomers
As a whole, immigrants make many sociocultural, civic-political, and economic contributions to their destination countries and communities, and are key agents of change in multiple sectors.
In turn, their inclusion into their host societies is related to different areas that, to a large extent, are codependent. That is why migration has a key role in a variety of areas, such as language teaching, education, the labor market, family reunification, and political and economic participation.
International immigrants accounted for 3.5% of the global population in 2019, compared with 2.8%, in 2000, and 2.3%, in 1980.
The Benefits of Knowing the Language
Regardless of the reasons for migration, adapting to new cultures, customs, social values and language is not an easy task. Factors that influence the inclusion process of immigrants include their demographic and personal characteristics, such as age, gender, level of education and knowledge of the language, social media, and each individual’s capacity and skills.
Language is considered one of the main requirements for inclusion: 95% of Europeans believe that mastering the local language is essential in the integration of immigrants. Hence, people who are not fluent enough in the foreign language affirm that the language barrier represents one of the main issues they encounter upon their arrival.
In addition to facilitating social interactions, knowing the language helps them to:
- Pave their way in the new environment.
- Access health care.
- Be able to have a home or other services.
- Improve their access to education.
- Increase their chances of getting a job.
Despite the fact that the number of international immigrants represent a fairly small portion of the total population, it has significantly grown in recent years. Their regional distribution is led by Europe, being home to 82 million migrant people; followed by North America, home to 59 million; while North Africa and Western Asia are home to 49 million.
In addition, contrary to popular belief, the majority of international immigrants move between countries within the same region, especially in West Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
42% of U.S. immigrants speak Spanish, the most spoken language after English.
Source: PEW Research
According to United Nations data, the country that received the most immigrants was the U.S. (51 million), followed by Germany and Saudi Arabia (13 million). Meanwhile, in 2019, Russia welcomed 12 million people; the United Kingdom, 10 million; and the U.A.E., 9 million.
And there is even more data: a third of all immigrants worldwide come from only 10 countries: the leader is India, with 18 million; Mexico, with about 12 million; China, with 11 million; and Russia, with 10 million.
The Focus Set on Diversity and Inclusion
For all these people, it is essential to be able to communicate without barriers, and this makes public policies and the access to education extremely vital. The Intercultural Cities program, for example, has over 135 participating cities in the member states of the Council of Europe and in Australia, Canada, USA, Israel, Japan, Morocco and Mexico.
It is estimated that 169 million workers made up 62% of all international immigrants in 2019.
Source: International Labor Office (ILO)
These locations are classified according to their intercultural policies and practices. The outcome of this Index shows a positive correlation between the scores obtained by cities and local well-being: the more intercultural the policies, the better the quality of life.
All in all, the inclusion of people who speak another language is key, given that oftentimes, immigrants neither have the time nor the means to learn the language of the host country before arriving. Therefore, political decisions must be put in place to respond to these language needs.