Language Education Policy Studies
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Minority and Less Commonly 

Used Languages 

Language-in-education policies for “minorities” and “less commonly used” languages clearly necessitate contextualization as well as conceptual clarification according to regional or national frameworks, but some general points can be made here. First, the notion of ‘minorities’ in English is not accurate, because the numerical minority of the population does not necessarily comprise a lesser number than the dominant language or ‘majority’. For example, there may be or could soon be more Spanish speakers in the U.S., Quechua speakers in Peru, or Arabic speakers in France than speakers of the official or dominant language. Second, “less commonly used” may imply a hierarchy of languages and relegate non-dominant languages to folk, traditional, or anachronistic status. Of course, “less commonly used” may also simply refer to languages whose speakers have immigrated or are isolated, and are truly a small number. Perhaps a better term is “non-dominant/official/language of instruction” speakers. This concept relates directly to linguicism, language marginalization, and language endangerment through language shift.


The question of minority languages and language-in-education policies often boils down to this: economic opportunities are tied to knowing the dominant language to succeed in school or work; in other words, opportunities or even hopes of livelihood are tied to language, forcing many people into hybrid identity negotiations and choices and often leading to language shift, disappearance, and language death. Then questions of identity emerge and get blurred, often by academia.


Minority language students often fail at formal schooling with many variables such as high stakes exams, the language of schooling differing from their home language, or because of discrimination. For example, in the United States, many studies show that Native American, African, Spanish are discriminated against and fail in school (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2010). (See Language Discrimination). The same can easily be the case of non-dominant language minorities worldwide. At the same time, other studies show that mother tongue instruction causes educational achievement. (See Mother Tongue Education.)



Wikipedia on Language Education:


The Civil Rights Project at UCLA:


The Crisis in the Education of Latino Students at NEA:

Bilingual Education as “Political Spectacle”:


Minority learners in bilingual (Ontario). 

Brown, K. (2010). Teachers as Language-Policy Actors: Contending with the Erasure of Lesser-Used Languages in Schools. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 41(3), 298-314.


Cummins, J. (2009). Fundamental Psycholinguistic and Sociological Principles Underlying Educational Success for Linguistic Minority Students. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas, R. Phillipson, A. K. Mohanty, & M. Panda (Eds.), Social Justice through Multilingual Education (pp. 19-35). Bristol , UK: Multilingual Matters.


August, D. & Shanahan, T. (Eds.) (2006). Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Gya, K., A. & Sperling, E. (Eds.). (2012) Minority Language in Today’s Global Society. New York: Trace Foundation.


May, S. (2003). Misconceiving Minority Language Rights: Implications for liberal political theory. In W. Kymlicka & A. Patten (Eds.). Language rights and political theory, (pp. 123-152). Oxford University Press.


Skutnabb-Kangas (1999). Education of Minorities. In Fishman (Ed.), Language and Ethic Identity (pp.42-59).


Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2010). Education of Indigneous and Minority Children. In J. Fishman, O. Garcia (Eds) Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity. Disciplinary and Regional Perspectives. Volume 1. 2nd revised edition. Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 186-204.


Thomas, W. P. & Collier, V. P.  (2002). A National Study of School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students' Long-term Academic Achievement. Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence, University of California-Santa Cruz. Funded by the U.S. Dept of Education.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Harrison, K. M. (2013). Minority and Less-Commonly Used Languages. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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