The Language of Reasons

The book on language learning
Click to see on Amazon

Today’s post is by international hip hop activist Umar Alim Al-Junaid, author of “The Book on Language Learning: 10 Reasons Why African Americans NEED to Learn a Second Language”

In comparison to the rest of the world, some would say that being born in America has its divine-like advantages, some would argue the opposite. Yet, when it comes to language we can all agree that for the past 300 plus years English has been the most important language of capitalism.

The reasons I wrote “The Book on Language Learning: 10 Reasons Why African Americans NEED To Learn A Second Language” are many, but for now I’m going to give you the top 10, in no particular order.

Cultural Literacy. Cultural literacy means having exchange with other cultures with reflection and through an inclusive knowledge of the world around us. So, I wanted to write a book that celebrates art, history, and experience. Personally, I have found that the best way to do that is by learning the language of a particular culture/s that we find interesting which, in turn, I feel is a an overall celebration of the human family.

Business/Economy. I wanted to write a book that places acquiring a second language of utmost importance for American citizens as it pertains to our current economic situation as a country, but especially for those of us in the African American community who suffer the worst. According to an article by Rakesh Kochhar, Richard Fry, and Paul Taylor for the Pew Research Center “the typical Black household has just $5,677, Hispanic households $6,325 in wealth and the typical White household $113,149”. Keep in mind that this is total assets after debt during the great recession. And considering that careers in language are predicted to grow over the next 10 to 20 years it would be in the US interest to become serious about becoming a bi-lingual society. English is the lingua franca of global business, but for how long?

History. I wanted to write a book that connected African Americans to their history – from the glory of Africa before 1492 and their descendents living in the western hemisphere today. There has been a cultural disconnect between Africans born in the United States and those Africans across the rest of the diaspora and I believe that language is an important step towards reconnecting, à la Marcus Garvey. I explain this disconnection more in depth in the book but for now it is safe to say that for those African Americans inclined to know who they are, their place in history, and their future, language is your bridge back to the other side of the Atlantic.

Monocultural Americana. I wanted to write a book that took a serious look at the effects of growing up in a country that uses its language as a weapon of cultural imperialism extending far beyond its borders.

Travel. For many reasons most African-Americans will probably never make it outside of their own ‘hoods. I wanted to write a book that will inspire African Americans to visit their world, it’s really that simple. Not to mention that when you do decide to travel the world you will quickly learn that despite what you may believe…everyone in the world does NOT speak English. Besides, the best way to experience that trip to China, and grasp the full flavor of its beautiful people and culture is to at least have a working knowledge of Mandarin.

Freedom. I wanted to write a book that connects language to freedom. How do the two relate to each other, well, pick up the book and you’ll find out! Shameless, I know.

Youth. I wanted to write a book that shows African American children that it is actually cool to learn a foreign language, that they can learn a second language and that they NEED to be bi-lingual in the world they are living today in where most children their age are already speaking English as a second or third language. And to also let Black children know that, no, learning a language is not only for white people!

Perspective. I wanted to write a book on learning a second language that was written from the perspective of an African American male. There’s not much representation of Blacks in the multilingual community (more for lack of their not being many) so it follows that there aren’t many African Americans writing about second language acquisition. I hope to express myself in the same language, face and tone that most African Americans can understand and relate to.

Story. I wanted to write a book that, not only, gives reasons why African Americans need to become bi-lingual . I also wanted to write a book that brings the reader into my personal story on how I came to fall in love with learning languages, and how it feels living in the United States being one of a handful of African Americans who share that love. Often times Americans think that one has to be some sort of genius to be “good” at learning languages and I wanted to dispel that myth. Trust me folks, I am in no way, shape, form, or fashion a genius.

Audience. I just wanted to write a book that I hope people will read.

Yes, I will admit, “The Book on Language Learning: 10 Reasons Why African Americans NEED To Learn A Second Language” is written with the African American reader in mind. It is also written for the English speaking world as whole which includes the UK and Australia.

Our world is experiencing great change, and although English is the tongue of capitalism, English will not maintain that luxury much longer as we enter this new epoch of globalism.

 Useful links

In addition to the links above, you can contact Umar on Twitter, Facebook and Soundcloud

Beyond Babel: Linguistic and intercultural skills for tomorrow

Insights podcast on multilingualism with Bruno della Chiesa

Bruno della Chiesa was the soul of Languages in a Global World. Hear him discussing the relation between multilingualism and ageism, sexism, imperialism and much more in French, with Anne-Lise Prigent, or in English with Patrick Love.

Learn languages and… expand your own being (among a few other things) is an Insights blog article on Languages in a Global World

Video winners heading to Paris

Young video makers from Asia have taken top honours in this year’s edition of the OECD’s annual video competition. Regular readers may recall that the OECD asked entrants to show how we could shape tomorrow’s global economy for the better. “Think differently!” we said, and that’s just what our winners did.

From Korea, Shin Jae Ho’s video looks at the part each of us can play in making the world a better place, and suggests we’re not doing a great job of measuring and valuing the importance of each of these individual contributions.

From Indonesia, Achmad Danny Gazali emphasizes the role that Indonesia’s 62 million young people will play in determining the shape of their society. The good news for this developing country, says Danny, is that it can call on 62 million hopes and 62 million solutions for its future.

And also from Korea, Shin Jaein uses the Korean staple bibimbap – a tasty mix of rice, meat and vegetables – to show the creative potential that could be generated by lowering the walls separating industry, art, society and technology.

Congratulations to the winners, who will all be invited to travel to Paris next month to take part in the OECD Forum.

And, of course, many thanks to everyone else who took part.

Useful links

The OECD on YouTube

The Liikanen Report on Banking Reform: A Good Try, But Two Major Flaws

Separate us, but let me keep three screens.
Please let me keep three screens.

Today’s post is from Adrian Blundell-Wignall, Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary-General on Financial Markets. The view expressed here is his own and does not necessarily reflect that of any OECD government.

This week, the German Parliament’s Finance Committee invited Paul Atkinson and me to comment on a draft bank-separation law. The draft is strongly influenced by the 2012 Final Report of the High-level Expert Group on reforming the structure of the EU banking sector chaired by Erkki Liikanen.

Liikanen proposes assigning trading and available for sale securities above a threshold of 15-25% and all activities related to market making to a separate, well-capitalized, subsidiary. This would maintain the advantages of the universal bank model in a holding company structure, but insured deposits could not be used to subsidize the trading activities. The OECD has long proposed a non-operating holding company structure for separation, by ring fencing and separately capitalizing the different activities without restricting a bank from offering a complete range of services to customers. In general terms Liikanen is similar to this. It has the advantage of also of promoting a level playing field for bank competition with stand-alone securities trading firms.

However, the proposal involving a €100 bn “separation trigger” for total assets held for trading and available for sale is not sensible. No bank under €400bn total assets with any amount of derivatives would ever be considered as long as it kept no more than 24.9% of trading assets? If a bank with around €100bn trading assets was subject to a plus or minus 10% volatility cycle in asset values, it could separated and reunited as prices rose and fell.

The Liikanen report urges the Basel Committee and the EU to deal with the shortcomings of model-based risk weighting approach in the capital rules, so that the trading subsidiary (in particular) is well capitalized and not subject to error. The Expert Group also stresses that the directives on resolution and bail-in are an essential complement to its separation proposal. Clarification and pre-notification of instruments that are not guaranteed and will be subject to bail-in should be transparent to promote trust. As far as possible, such instruments should be marketed to non-banks.

Strengthening boards, promoting risk management and disclosure, tackling incentive schemes and sanctions to ensure compliance were also recommended by the Liikanen group.

While the OECD has supported much of this over the years, we disagree with Liikanen on two important points, concerning separation and minimum capital standards.

The first major problem is that, while idea of a threshold for separation is good, the Liikanen group has not chosen the right variable on which to base the threshold. Recent OECD work has sought empirically to explore the factors that make a bank more or less risky: i.e. that  take it towards or away from the default point. This research was necessary, because policy after the crisis had to be made ‘on the run’ without enough detailed empirical evidence on which to base reform. Most of the research referred to in the Liikanen report pre-dates the crisis, or is related to recent policy developments, but none of it contains research relating business model features to banks’ distance to default. Yet it is crucial to know which mechanisms are and are not supported by the data.

With respect to the business model features of bank risk, the OECD study shows that liquid trading assets, properly separated from the gross market value of (mainly over the counter illiquid) derivatives, helps to increase the bank’s distance from default and make it less (not more) risky. On the other hand derivatives are overwhelmingly the business model feature that gives rise to interconnectedness risk and default paths arising from illiquidity in crisis conditions (for example the massive margin calls in 2008-2009).

This makes intuitive sense too. Most derivatives are not standardized and trade over-the-counter, i.e. directly between the two parties without being supervised by an exchange. An institution can find itself in a position where it cannot operate because it doesn’t have the liquidity to meet immediate calls for payments on derivatives markets. Dexia is a recent example of such a failure, and if AIG’s derivative commitments had not been met from official sources, bank collapses through interdependence channels would have been difficult to contain. Liquid trading securities, on the other hand, can be sold precisely to meet margin and collateral calls —a very good thing.

This is a fairly major problem for the Liikanen report—they are not looking at the right threshold variable. The idea of a threshold makes sense, but it must be based on the key variable if banks are to be safer. In the OECD view this is derivatives: any bank with a gross market value of derivatives above 10%-15% should be considered for separation.

Putting to one side the empirical evidence for a moment, consider intuitively the case of Wells Fargo (appropriately converted to International Financial Reporting Standards – IFRS –  derivatives concepts) and Deutsche Bank. Wells Fargo offers most essential services to its customers, has very low leverage, had no issues in the crisis and is one of the most profitable banks in the world. Wells Fargo received no payments from the US government in settlement of the AIG counterparty positions. Yet Wells Fargo would be considered for separation under Liikanen ‘percent-of-assets’ threshold test. Its trading and available for sale assets were around 21% in mid 2012, but its derivatives were only 6.5% of its adjusted balance sheet—a safe business model for interconnectedness risk according to the OECD research.

Deutsche Bank, on the other hand, with 40% of its balance sheet in derivatives and only 14% of liquid trading and available for sale securities would not be considered for separation on this rule. Deutsche Bank received a payment from the US government in settlement of its AIG positions equal to 37% of equity less goodwill. Enough said.

The second main issue after separation, minimum capital requirements, is dealt with extensively in the Liikanen Report, with calls for “…more robust risk weights…more consistent treatment of risk in internal models [and that] the treatment of real estate lending…should be reconsidered,…”

The Expert Group should have had the courage of its convictions. The core problem is the risk weighting system as proposed in the so-called Basel III international regulatory framework for banks. This introduces an illusory “risk sensitivity” that relates minimum capital requirements to “risk-weighted assets (RWA)”, instead of to actual balance sheets. This has evolved into a system of extreme complexity that invites institutions to look for regulatory ways to reduce RWA relative to total assets (including negotiating with supervisory authorities) rather than ensuring they really have enough capital, defeating the entire purpose of capital adequacy rules.

So long as capital requirements are based on RWA, whose relationship to the actual balance sheet is effectively a management tool, many banks (and the system as a whole) are likely to be under-capitalized. The best solution would be to scrap the risk-weight system at both global and European levels in favor of something vastly simpler and more effective. Failing that, the equivalent can be achieved by strengthening the role of the (non-risk-weighted) leverage ratio to the point where it overrides the risk-weight system.

Useful links

OECD work on sovereign debt and financial stability

OECD work on financial sector guarantees

Financial Market Trends – OECD Journal

Innovative responses to fragility: The promise of modern technology

They offer some of the world's most sophisticated IT services
They offer some of the world’s most sophisticated IT services

Today’s post is from Erwin van Veen of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF)

By some estimates, poverty has been reduced in recent years from 1.3 billion people in 2005 to fewer than 900 million in 2010. That’s about half a billion people in just five years – a truly impressive achievement. The talk is now of aiming for poverty eradication in the global development framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they ‘expire’ in 2015. This, however, is likely to be a tricky challenge for at least two reasons. First, China and India can take credit for most of the recent reduction of poverty. As they largely achieved this without help from the international development community, it raises the question whether an international focus on direct poverty reduction will generate the greatest benefits. Creating an enabling environment centred on equitable investment, peace and security and sustainable development may be more productive – and contentious.

Second, estimates from experts like Andy Sumner and Homi Kharas suggest that a significant number of the remaining poor live and will live in fragile environments. This is problematic for effective poverty reduction because their governments have not necessarily demonstrated great commitment to this objective, while international aid to such countries is often not fit for purpose (consider the 2011 survey on monitoring the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the 2011 monitoring report of the Fragile States Principles or the New Deal for Engagement).

Hence, a global, political push for poverty eradication through the post-2015 framework is likely to benefit from parallel bottom-up social innovation and mobilization. Modern technology can be a real game changer in this regard and two initiatives currently on-going in India and East-Africa have great potential.

India is setting up a biometrical system that will enable direct cash transfers to the country’s poorest. In one fell swoop this will eliminate layers of overhead and corruption by ensuring benefits reach intended recipients directly through a fairly foolproof system. Costs have been kept low by combining an open policy in selecting devices and software, and stimulating competition between private vendors.

Another example of modern technology at work is M-Pesa (mobile money in Swahili), the world’s most developed mobile-phone based money transfer and payment system. It uses national ID cards or passports as its basis to easily deposit, withdraw, and transfer money. It’s widely in used in Kenya and Tanzania in particular.

Now imagine linking a person’s identity – as established and stored in a biometrical database – with an internet-enabled, mobile-phone based platform that hosts (financial) services and information at global scale. Such a system would allow both accurate transfers at the level of individuals, including peer-to-peer, and authentication of beneficiaries. With internet-enabled mobile phone penetration rates rising fast everywhere, even remote corners of the world are reachable. This kind of technology can also be put in the service of development in fragile and conflict-affected countries, in at least two ways.

One application could be to use such mobile-phone enabled databases to share royalties resulting from natural resource extraction directly and more widely with local communities. A major problem with natural resource extraction in many fragile environments is that a significant part of the revenue that states receive gets stolen by those in power. Local communities don’t tend to see much of it, which results in a sense of injustice, marginalization, and occasionally, violence.

In fact, the Centre for Global Development is already exploring an Oil2Cash scheme that would see resource-rich governments make direct cash transfers to the accounts of individual citizens via modern technology. Apart from the merits and demerits of direct cash transfers, this scheme faces an important obstacle: why would governments that can currently spend this revenue at their discretion suddenly want to share it with their citizens? An alternative might be to make energy companies responsible for distributing part of the revenue directly to citizens that live in the relevant area. This probably requires creating a global norm – enforceable through national legislation – that ensures every exploration contract concluded in a fragile environment features a clause stipulating that energy companies will set up appropriate mechanisms to transfer a certain percentage of the revenues. The challenge here is of course how to make it stick globally and avoid creating competitive advantage for countries that do not sign up.

One option is to use the momentum of the new post-2015 development agenda to build on existing initiatives like the UN’s Global Compact and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to create a global natural resource charter that, among other things, commits oil companies to share part of exploration revenues directly with local communities – corporate social responsibility in direct action. Another option is to follow in the tracks of regulatory efforts to improve due diligence of mineral supply chains, which faces similar collective action dilemma’s, build on its experiences and learn from its lessons (for OECD work click here).

A second application of modern technology to reduce fragility could lie in the area of disaster management. Several recent reports suggest that the frequency and intensity of natural disasters are increasing. While some of the largest, most deadly and most costly disasters have affected highly developed countries with the means to recover (such as Japan and the US), many affect populations living in fragile environments that are far less resilient to deal with their catastrophic consequences. The coastal zones that will absorb most of Africa’s population growth over the next decades are especially vulnerable.

It should be possible to register these populations in a biometrical system – akin to what India is piloting – so that when disaster strikes, global peer-to-peer transfers can be made directly to empower individuals to start rebuilding their own lives. In 2011 Kenyans already mobilized €171,000 in two days through M-Pesa contributions for the “Kenyans for Kenya” fundraiser set up to respond to famine and deaths from starvation in its Turkana District. Image what such a system might accomplish at a global scale by way of a ‘social protection floor’ in cases such as the Haiti earthquake or the recent droughts and famines in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

While such systems require significant one-off investments, do not solve more structural barriers to development, and still have to be made to work politically, they hold promise to move away from traditional rich-to-poor, Official Development Aid flows and can capitalize on a global world in which development is a rapidly changing notion and social empowerment on the rise.

Useful links

OECD work on peacebuilding, statebuilding and security

Now, build peace

Find out more about the New Deal between fragile states and partners
Find out more about the New Deal between fragile states and partners

Today’s post is from Donata Garrassi of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding and Brenda Killen, Head of OECD’s Global Partnerships and Policy Division

In May 2011, The Economist featured an image of Osama Bin Laden on its front cover with the title: “Now, kill his dream”. Conflict and instability are constantly in the headlines, from the civil war in Syria, to unrest across North Africa, to seemingly endless bloodshed and turmoil in the Sahel.

We have yet to see this much more inspiring headline: “Now, build peace”. However, many countries around the world are doing exactly that: building peace. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste, to mention a few, are recovering from armed conflict, rebuilding institutions that provide security and justice to citizens, and embarking on political transitions. Their leaders are working hard to maximize the benefits of their natural resources, attract private investment and create jobs for their burgeoning youth populations.

Conflict and instability directly affect 1.5 billion people. But in an interconnected world, local actions reverberate on the global stage in a way that can no longer be isolated or contained.  Forging peace is not just a collective responsibility; it is in our collective interest to help countries transition toward peace and resilience. The good news is that conflict-affected and fragile countries, with the support of development partners, have identified tools and strategies for addressing the underlying causes of conflict and laying the foundations for peace.

One of these is the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, a breakthrough agreement signed by over 40 countries and organisations, including the 19 conflict-affected and fragile countries that form the g7+. The New Deal sets out 5 pre-conditions for building peaceful states—the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs)—and provides a practical framework for countries and development partners to assess, prioritise, plan, implement and hold each other accountable.

The New Deal represents a potential breakthrough in the way national and international partners work in situations of conflict and fragility, with implications for diplomatic and political, security, and development interventions. The Secretary General of the United Nations has called upon the member states to work towards the realisation of the PSGs on more than one occasion. Countries such as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are using New Deal tools to identify dimensions of fragility and peacebuilding priorities. The New Deal is also inspiring civil society organisations from the global North and from the South in their advocacy on the need for healthy state-society relationship as the foundation of sustainable peace.

To make a lasting difference, we need to adopt the New Deal as a “new mindset” for how we address conflict and instability. It needs to be incorporated into national development plans and budgets, reflected in newspaper headlines and speeches, and promoted by civil society activists and business leaders alike. Moreover, the principles that underpin the New Deal must be reflected in the future development agenda that will be hopefully agreed after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) “expire” in 2015.

Development partners can support country transitions toward resilience by fulfilling their commitments to provide quality, timely, and flexible aid. While some countries have achieved the promised target of allocating 0.7% of their Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA), figures recently published by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that the aid disbursed by OECD countries – as an overall average – is not even half of this. Low-income countries, many of which are conflict-affected or fragile, are the ones most likely to suffer from this shortfall.

While the volume of aid matters, even more important is how it is used. The New Deal and the g7+ group of fragile states help by establishing guidelines for development cooperation. A central concept is that aid should enable countries to assume responsibility for their own transitions and deliver concrete results for their people. The New Deal promotes a new model of partnership that catalyses national ownership and leadership with a long-term vision, as opposed to a “quick win” approach.

The leaders of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, the political forum that produced the New Deal and that reunites the g7+ countries, development partners and civil society representatives, will meet in Washington, D.C. on 19 April. It will be a very good opportunity to agree on concrete actions to put New Deal commitments into practice and into the headlines. Now, build peace.

Useful links

OECD work on conflict and fragility

Evaluating Peacebuilding Activities in Settings of Conflict and Fragility

International Network on Conflict and Fragility

Beyond Babel: Linguistic and intercultural skills for tomorrow

I don't know what you mean
I don’t know what you mean

Today’s post is written by Anne-Lise Prigent, the editor in charge of education publications at OECD Publishing. Tonight, the OECD is hosting a conference on how multilingualism can improve communication by enriching thought.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”, Wittgenstein said. This limit holds for English, the world’s lingua franca. In 2006, the British Council warned that “monoglot English graduates face a bleak economic future as qualified multilingual youngsters from other countries are proving to have a competitive advantage (…) in global companies”.

The world’s economic centre of gravity is shifting, and so is its linguistic landscape, as the OECD’s Trends Shaping Education points out: “English was long the dominant language of the Internet, but that is changing. There are now over 250 languages represented on the Internet, with English, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish making up the top five.”.

Mandarin now is the most widely spoken language in the world, followed by English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German and French. The relative number of English native speakers will decrease whereas Spanish, Hindi and Arabic will soar. The number of non-native English speakers will overtake that of native speakers over the next century.

Androulla Vassiliou, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth thinks that languages can help us out of the crisis. She stresses that Europeans need better language skills to answer labour markets’ needs. In 2011, only 42% of European 15-year-olds were competent in their first foreign language, with huge variations between, say, Sweden (82%) and Britain (9%).

In a context of increasing global competition, language skills are becoming crucial. A survey of SMEs found that a significant amount of business is being lost because of inadequate language skills. Across the sample of nearly 2000 businesses, 11% of respondents had lost a contract as a result of lack of language skills. Contracts worth in total between €8 million and €13.5 million were lost by 37 businesses, while a further 54 businesses missed potential contracts worth between €16.5 million and €25.3 million. SMEs which have a language strategy achieve 44% more export sales than those which don’t.

Languages do not only matter for SMEs. In March 2006, Amazon announced it would move its European customer service centre from the UK to Ireland to take advantage of better language skills. More generally, managing cultural diversity and linguistic complexity can be a critical asset for large companies. Large firms which have no language strategy tend to fail to deal with day-to-day communication problems according to the ELAN report. The cost of language barriers was quantified as between 15%-22% in terms of tariff equivalents. Other estimates are more modest and obviously vary across sectors.

 In 2007, Languages in crisis: A rescue plan for Australia identified the lack of language skills as a risk to the Australian economy. “For our nation to continue to prosper we must enhance our links with the world – we do that by improving our cultural understanding, our language skills.” While the Asian region represented 70% of Australia’s largest export markets, fewer than 3% of Australian university students studied an Asian language. Language studies in Australia had simply collapsed since the 60s.  And Australia is hardly the only country where language programmes were hit by budget cuts.

Do our education systems “provide students with the necessary outlook and skills, including language skills, for successful international cooperation” as Trends Shaping Education asks? Isn’t higher education also supposed to help us understand what is strange and foreign? David Lammy argued that a university without modern languages is “a university that has lost much of its ability to look outwards – a university without universality, if you like”. This is also about remaining alert as a society. To paraphrase Chomsky, “if a culture retreats into a circle of comfortable and reinforcing language (…), then it will cut itself off from the creative energies that are its life source” – and from the world.

Chomsky also reminds us that linguistic ability does not consist of learning specific responses to specific situations. It is not mere performance, it is competence. In dialogue, Chomsky argues, one should not seek victory, but rather creative openness. In Language and creativity, he revisits the 1961 Cuban missile crisis as a good example of creative interchange. Openness instead of polarization. Kennedy said at the time: “if anybody is around to write after this, (…) they are going to understand that we made every effort (…) to give our adversary room to move”.

Gusdorf’s approach is similar to Chomsky’s: in language, we seek ourselves and others. Winning and refutation can be put aside and reciprocity, mutual enhancement, the enrichment of ideas and persons become the goal. As Finnish author Samuli Paronen puts it: “real winners do not compete”. It is interesting to note that despite doing so well in the PISA tests, the Finns never aimed to have (one of) the world’s best education system(s). Something they certainly did was to learn from others and enhance cooperative learning. 

The Finns have also proved particularly creative and innovative. Over the past few years, research on (potential) links between language learning and 21st century skills (such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration or communication) has flourished. In Multilingualism and creativity, Kharkhurin argues that multilingualism is a facilitator of one’s creative potential.

A year ago, the OECD published a wonderful book called Languages in a Global World: Learning for Better Cultural Understanding. Looking at how the world is going, this book seems more relevant than ever. Its praise of diversity is reminiscent of Segalen’s  Advice to the Good Traveller:

“A town at the end of the road & a road extending
a town: do not choose one or the other, but
one & the other by turns. (…)
Beware of choosing a refuge. (…)
Thus, without stopping or stumbling, without
halter & without stable,
you will attain, friend, not
the marsh of immortal joys,
But the intoxicating eddies of the great river


Insights podcast on multilingualism with Bruno della Chiesa

Bruno della Chiesa was the soul of Languages in a Global World. Hear him discussing the relation between multilingualism and ageism, sexism, imperialism and much more in French, with Anne-Lise Prigent, or in English with Patrick Love.

Learn languages and… expand your own being (among a few other things) is an Insights blog article on Languages in a Global World

Aid falls for second year in a row

Aid from rich to poor countries fell by 4% in real terms last year, the second decline in two years, according to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which brings together 24 of the world’s leading aid donors. In 2011, aid spending fell by 2%.

The falls reflect the continuing budget pressure on developed countries, many of which are cutting spending across the board, including on aid. Several of the European countries that have been hardest hit by the euro zone crisis made notable cuts in aid in 2012 – by just over 49% in Spain, just over 34% in Italy and 17% in Greece.

This is the first time since 1996-1997 that aid from the major donors has fallen in two successive years, and it now means that aid is down by 6% in real terms since peaking in 2010. However, there is some hope that the worst may be over: Major donors supply forecasts for their aid spending to the OECD every year, and these suggest that 2013 should see a moderate recovery.

Despite the falls, some of the DAC’s member countries did manage to increase their air spending last year: Korea’s total rose by almost 18%, Australia’s by just over 9% and Iceland’s by almost 6%. Turkey, which is not a member of the DAC, reported a rise in its aid spending of almost 99%, largely in response to the refugee crisis in Syria and the need to support countries in North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The latest aid figures also show aid is shifting away from the world’s poorest countries, including in Sub-Saharan Africa, and towards middle-income countries, such as India, China and Vietnam. That’s a worrying trend, as OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría noted: “I hope that the trend in aid away from the poorest countries will be reversed. This is essential if aid is to play its part in helping achieve the [Millennium Development] Goals.”

The fall in aid was criticised by a number of international agencies. “This cut in aid is going to cost lives,” said Oxfam International’s Jeremy Hobbs. “This is not the time for rich countries to drop long-standing commitments.” Several contributors to a live Tweetchat following the release of the data were also critical of the performance of the world’s wealthiest countries. “For 2nd yr official aid data show rich countries fail to do all they can to fight poverty,” wrote Nicole Metz.

Useful links

OECD Aid Statistics

OECD Insights: From Aid to Development