Boston Mayoral Candidate Michelle Wu Says People Not Speaking English In Boston Is A Strength

Printed from:

What would you consider a strength of the city of Boston?

Professional sports teams like the Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics? The dining options in the North End? Its nearly 400-year history, including the role it played in the Revolutionary War? Maybe even how there are both saltwater and freshwater fishing spots?

That depends on one’s opinion. However, Boston city councilor Michelle Wu said in a recent Ask Me Anything session on Reddit that the lack of a common language is a strength.

Her comment came in response to a question submitted by a user named sadsword24. The user asked, “what is your plan to improve education for english language learners?”

Part of Wu’s answer was that the city needs to increase spending on foreign students. Here is what she said, in full:


Language diversity is one of Boston’s greatest strengths, with 140 languages spoken across all our neighborhoods.

BPS must recognize diversity and difference as a strength and reimagine its relationship with English learners to treat the language they speak at home as a strength, not a deficit. Expanding full-service community schools to every neighborhood will build the foundation of safety and security our ELs need to learn, and we have to provide rigorous academics alongside language instruction. We also have to increase staffing to support English language learners with individualized education plans (IEPs), including ongoing professional development for teachers to provide language support without sacrificing rigorous academic programming.

BPS has made some progress on increasing the number of educators of color and multilingual educators, but we need to continue our efforts to recruit and retain multilingual teachers, administrators, and staff. We also need cultural changes at BPS Central Office to build true partnerships between our schools and our EL families, including creating an immigrant support team to guide our immigrant families through the sometimes-overwhelming process of finding a school that sets their child up for success, and guaranteeing full translation and interpretation services to make it possible for family members of all backgrounds to be active members of our school communities.


In recent years, some studies have found that a lack of a common language has negative social consequences.

A 2016 Iowa University study found that in immigrant households when children and parents don’t speak the same language fluently, it can lead in teen-agers to “negative consequences for adolescent self-control and aggressive behavior.”

Seven years before that study, research conducted by a University of Oxford professor found that a lack of a common language negatively affected treating back pain for health care professionals. The study stated, “Few of the existing medical terms were understood and accepted by lay participants in the way discussed and expected by health professionals. Misunderstandings, unintended meanings and negative emotional responses to terms were common within the study focus groups.”

And in 2000, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam found that in more nationally diverse neighborhoods, there was lower social cohesion than in homogeneous neighborhoods. Part of that diversity included the languages spoken by people who live there.

Putnam found that “the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects,” according to a 2007 review of his work. Additionally, the review noted that, “In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings.” 

So far, Wu is one of four Boston mayoral candidates this year. The others include fellow Boston City Councilors Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George as well as former hotel manager Dana Depelteau.

The general election is scheduled for November 2. It is unclear if there will be a special election if Marty Walsh resigns as mayor. Walsh is awaiting a confirmation vote by the U.S. Senate to become the U.S. Secretary of Labor.