International Colloquium on “Language Skills for Economic and Social Inclusion”


International Colloquium on “Language Skills for Economic and Social Inclusion”

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

12-13 October 2017

General goals

This conference aims at exploring the relationship between individual language skills and people’s integration in the economy and in society in general with a special focus on the labour market. Language skills can be viewed as human capital having a positive influence on people’s income, employability and social inclusion. This holds for immigrants, refugees and mobile people who can benefit from the knowledge of the official language(s) of the host country, but also for citizens learning foreign languages and using them in the workplace.


Learning foreign or second languages has for a long time been associated with openness to other cultures. In recent decades, nevertheless, the discourse on language learning has gradually changed. Language skills are viewed as part of individuals’ human capital that can contribute to their economic welfare, increase productivity and foster growth. At the same time, language learning can promote social inclusion. As a result of recent massive migration flows to Europe both the Council of Europe and the EU have emphasised the importance of language skills for the economic and social integration of migrants and refugees.

There are some sound economic reasons behind these claims. Being a particular form of human capital, language skills may have a positive effect of the economic and social inclusion of individuals in different ways. Language skills in the official language of the host country may have a positive impact on immigrants’ income, measured in terms of earning differentials; foreign language skills may be associated with a higher employability, and with a lower probability of being dismissed when the costs of the workforce increase. Language skills, therefore, may facilitate the participation and the inclusion in the labour market, higher earnings and the possibilities of finding a job or holding it. Language skills can also promote a better inclusion in society. Employment, in fact, is one central aspect of inclusion.

Languages are necessary (although not sufficient) for social inclusion and cohesion. The Social Policy and Development Division of the United Nations defines Social inclusion as the process by which people resident in a given territory, regardless of their background, can achieve their full potential in life. This, of course, includes the economic life of individuals, without neglecting other social and political aspects. Social cohesion is a related concept that can be defined as a feature of a society in which all groups have a sense of belonging, participation, inclusion, recognition and legitimacy. This requires, among other things, avoiding the emergence of “parallel communities” that are divided (or even segregated) by language barriers within a given society.

Language policy can contribute to avoiding exclusion and segregation by promoting the linguistic integration of refugees and migrants, also in the labour market, and by fostering foreign language learning for mobile people who wish to spend a shorter or longer period of their lives abroad (e.g. international students). Language skills facilitate inclusion and cohesion because, among other things, they increase the capability of citizens and migrants to understand and communicate with the other members of society. It facilitates the access to (higher) education, which plays a key role in the development of an individual’s human capital.

Research questions

The number of potential research questions that are relevant for the conference is large. Here we present a non-exhaustive list that can help orienting prospective participants:

  1. Do language skills significantly contribute to the participation of individuals in the labour market?
  2. Which languages are more rewarded in the labour market and at which level of fluency? What differences among countries or regions can be observed in this respect?
  3. Do language skills improve international economic integration and trade?
  4. How does language competence affect the social inclusion of migrants and refugees? Which sociolinguistic barriers can hinder inclusion?
  5. Are language skills an important variable in employers’ recruiting decisions?
  6. Do some economic sectors make a more intensive use of language skills than other?
  7. What is the role of language policy in facilitating social inclusion and social cohesion?
  8. How do language education policies affect individuals’ migration decisions? Do foreign language skills significantly facilitate international labour mobility and therefore the economic integration of the European and the global labour market as a whole?
  9. What is the relationship between language skills in a lingua franca (e.g. English) and social integration in the host country where the lingua franca is not the locally dominant language? What differences can be found among low-skilled migrants and high-skilled (or “expats”) in this respect?
  10. Does a lingua franca increase social inclusion, or does it promote the emergence of separate networks of communication? What are the sociological implications of this?

Keynote speakers

The interdisciplinary nature of the conference is reflected by the variety of academic background of the invited keynote speakers

1. Economics

  • Antonio Di Paolo: “The economic and social consequences of language-in-education policies” (AQR-IREA, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain)
  • François Vaillancourt : “ Language policies and labour market earnings : plausible impacts and evidence from Québec ” (Université de Montréal, Canada)
  • Ingo Isphording: “Immigrant language skills and labor market success” (IZA – Institute of Labor Economics, Germany)

2. Sociolinguistics

  • Gabriele Iannàccaro: “Social inclusion and sociolinguistics” (Stockholms Universitet, Sweden)
  • Sonja Novak: “Multilingualism at work: the case of firms in Slovenia” (Institute for Ethnic Studies, Ljubljana, Slovenia)

3. Sociology

  • Amado Alarcón: “Measuring Occupational Language Skills” (Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Spain)

Date and Venue

12-13 October 2017

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin,

Berlin, Germany

Fees and payment methods

The participation fee is €150 until 1 September and then €200. It includes four coffee breaks, two lunches and the social dinner on Thursday 12th October.

The participation fee for students of Humboldt-Universität is €50,-.

It is possible to pay either by bank transfer or by Paypal.

Submission and deadlines

The length of abstracts should not exceed 350 words. Abstracts must be submitted to the address “” by 15 May 2017. The successful applicants will be notified by 30 June 2017.

Working languages

You can send abstracts in English, Esperanto, French, German, Italian, Spanish, or Swedish.

Local organisers

REAL – Research group on Economics and Language

Institut für Erziehungswissenschaft

Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Bengt-Arne Wickström
Jürgen Van Buer
Michele Gazzola
Torsten Templin
Wiwex GmbH

Scientific committee

Agresti, Giovanni (Università di Teramo, Italy)
Chiswick, Barry (George Washington University, USA)
De Schutter, Helder (University of Leuven, Netherlands)
Dunbar, Rob (University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom)
Dustmann, Christian (University College London, United Kingdom)
Gazzola, Michele (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany)
Ginsburgh, Victor (ECARES, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium)
Grenier, Gilles (Université d’Ottawa, Canada)
Marácz, Laszlo (Universiteit van Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Medda-Windischer, Roberta (European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano, Italy)
Shorten, Andrew (University of Limerick, Ireland)
Templin, Torsten (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany)
Van Buer, Jürgen (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany)
Von Busekist, Astrid (Sciences-Po, Paris, France)
Wickström, Bengt-Arne (Andrássy University Budapest, Hungary)
Wolf, Nikolaus (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany)

With the kind support of

  • Institute for Ethnic Studies, Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • ILT project (CSO2015-64247-P) – Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness
  • The MIME Project (