Language Assessment in the migration context: What makes this subject multidisciplinary and what makes it difficult?

22. June 2016

The multidisciplinary approach involves drawing from different disciplines in order to reach solutions. It can be applied to different domains and it seems the only possible approach within the migration context.

Migration is a global, cyclical phenomenon, a major component of the history of humanity since the early beginnings of civilisation.

Migration is a general term widely used nowadays, emigration and immigration are closely linked, both terms deriving from migration, but are more specific: when we say that people emigrate we do not only say that people leave their country, region or place, but we also affirm their intention and purpose to live in another country, region or place permanently or for a limited period of time. Immigration (internal and external) is the flip-side of emigration, seen from the perspective of the hosting country. This is why, migration, particularly mass migration, historically involves both the migrants’ country and society of origin and the new country, not only in terms of internal political, social, demographic and economic consequences, but also of reciprocal involvement and responsibilities.

As we should learn from history and previous experiences, it is almost impossible to stop immigration flows and it is very difficult to limit and control them, particularly when they are originated by dramatic, endemic demographic, economic contrasts between countries of origin and countries of destination and when they are caused by profound and parallel political and social crises. Nevertheless, immigration flows need to be managed. This means that contemporary society in Europe and all over the world has to find a positive, constructive way to deal with it. It is, of course, a very complex process that needs shared and coordinated actions among countries and among disciplines.

Probably only a long-term educational process, based on dialogue and involving both the immigrant and host communities could lead to reciprocal knowledge and respect, which are the only basis for a real inclusion and in the long run, for a possible integration of immigrants. The intercultural dialogue implies that “participants in cross cultural encounter are expected neither to erase themselves nor to appropriate or subjugate the other’s differences; rather, the point is to achieve a (…) recognition of differences” (Dallmayr 2010:115 [1]). A transformative and humanising learning experience based on the reciprocal respect of liberal and democratic values.

Compared to its origins, modern migration involves quite a number of issues: political, economic, social, cultural and educational. To deal with all of these effectively, we need a multidimensional approach, different expertise and coordinated actions at an international level. In relation to this, social sciences should play a fundamental role in proposing approaches and models appropriate to the management of migration processes, depending on different contexts and situations.

From an educational point of view, knowledge of the host country’s language has become, in recent years, one of the key educational issues treated and discussed by experts and policymakers. As a consequence, language requirements have recently been introduced and presented by the majority of European Governments as necessary tools to foster migrants’ social inclusion. However, the result of such a policy is going to be the exclusion of some of the migrants – considering the fact that they can also fail language assessment tests.

Nowadays knowledge of the language of the new country is often questionably presented as the main tool for integration and the successful assessment of language knowledge is required to obtain fundamental rights such as long-term residency permits, citizenship, naturalisation depending on each country’s legislation. It clearly shows that language assessment in the migration context is a difficult task. It becomes a social-political issue that requires careful ethical, not only professional or technical consideration.

In conclusion, migration is a complex phenomenon to deal with that needs a multidisciplinary approach. Experts, including linguist and politicians must be aware that their cooperation in the migration context is not just important but essential.



Author: Project team of the University for Foreigners of Perugia: Giuliana Grego Bolli


[1] Dallmayr, F. (2010) Integral Pluralism. Beyond Culture Wars, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.


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