I may be biased.
I’ve lived all over the world — sometimes as a minority and sometimes in the majority. I’ve been relatively rich in places and poor in others. I’ve been able to natter in the local language. I’ve been a linguistic outsider. I’ve travelled by rusty bus, leaky boat, swaying elephant, and farting camel.
I was a third-culture kid, my Dad was a third-culture kid, and I now have three of my own. This means we’ve spent a good chunk of our childhood (and later lives) in countries that aren’t ours or our parents’ passport countries.
The last school my children went to was one of the best international schools in the world — in wonderful Indonesia. Kids from 65 other nationalities also went and the school’s aim was to make you not the best in the world, but the best for the world.
The school’s motto was ‘unity in diversity’.
So I am biased, and I was thrilled to read recent research showing that greater diversity brings greater prosperity to the whole community.
Dr Nazmun Ratna, a senior economics lecturer at Lincoln University has shown that in major cities in the United States the average income of the working age population went up the more diverse the city was.
Large American cities like New York, Los Angeles or Miami are highly diverse in demographic characteristics, skill composition and abilities of inhabitants. Social diversity in these cities is economically productive.
But to make the most of immigrants’ and their descendants’ different ideas and knowledge, being able to speak a common language is vital. Dr Ratna and her co-researchers found that if people can’t communicate in a mutually understandable language the process of exchanging knowledge across different groups is much slower. And in some cases it can stop.
In the United States, and for us in New Zealand, this research means we need to support migrants with quality English language training. It means we need to write clearly in plain language so people can take a full part in our society.
Society will benefit from the richness of this diversity — culturally and economically.