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Multilingualism – an asset and a commitment

Multilingualism is a value for intercultural dialogue, social cohesion and prosperity. It plays an important role in lifelong learning, media and information technologies, as well as in the EU’s external relations. This communication demonstrates how the Commission aims to mainstream language policy to better realise the potential of multilingualism in Europe.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 18 September 2008 – Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment [COM(2008) 566 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

This communication depicts the advantage and value of linguistic diversity in the European Union (EU). It presents the steps that should be taken to ensure that multilingualism is mainstreamed into all necessary policy strands for the purpose of social cohesion and prosperity. The objective of “communication in mother tongue plus two languages” constitutes the basis of these actions.

Multilingualism for intercultural dialogue and social cohesion

Language plays an important role in the integration process of non-natives into the societies of Member States. Hence, the take-up of the host-country language should be promoted. At the same time, untapped linguistic resources in our society (different mother tongues and other languages spoken at home and in local and neighbouring environments) should be valued more highly, for instance through developing a personal adoptive language.

To ease the access to basic services for tourists, foreign workers, students and immigrants with limited proficiency in the national language, basic information should be made available in different languages. For cross-border services, for example, Member States are expected to set up multilingual points of single contact (under the ‘Services’ Directive). Meanwhile, the Commission intends to bring multilingualism closer to the citizens and to:

  • demonstrate the importance of language learning and diversity through awareness-raising campaigns;
  • evaluate language skills by using the Language Indicators and Eurobarometer surveys;
  • develop the professions of interpreters and translators in the legal field and enhance access to justice.

Multilingualism for prosperity

A multilingual workforce is a distinct advantage that would provide European companies a competitive edge and thus promote prosperity. Consequently, companies are recommended to invest more in language and intercultural skills. From the citizens’ perspective, mastering several languages increases employability and allows to choose from a larger number of job offers. To this end, Member States should develop the acquisition and recognition of language skills outside the formal education systems. Simultaneously, the Commission intends to:

  • enhance student and worker mobility;
  • communicate the results of the study on language skills, creativity and innovation;
  • provide a platform for relevant stakeholders to exchange best practices.

Lifelong learning

Member States are still far from realising the above-mentioned “mother tongue plus two” objective. While it is usually students in general education that profit from progress towards this goal, this opportunity is still lacking in many of the Member States. The opportunities provided to those in vocational education and training (VET) are even more limited. Hence, the Commission will:

  • promote language teaching through relevant Community programmes;
  • gather and disseminate best practices in language learning and teaching among Member States.

Member States are also invited to promote language learning by:

  • offering opportunities to learn the national language plus two other languages;
  • providing a wide offer of languages to choose from;
  • improving the training of those involved in language teaching;
  • supporting the mobility of language teachers.

The media, new technologies and translation

The different languages and cultures of the EU can be brought closer to the citizens via the media, new technologies and translation services. These can both reduce and cross the language barriers experienced by citizens, as well as by companies and national administrations. Consequently, Member States are encouraged to cooperate with stakeholders and media, as well as to foster the development and take-up of new technologies. At the same time, the Commission intends to:

  • encourage the use of subtitles and promote the circulation of European works;
  • support projects involving language and communication technologies;
  • give a conference on the role of translation in intercultural dialogue;
  • support cross-border administrative cooperation.

The external dimension of multilingualism

In terms of intercultural dialogue, multilingualism is especially significant for the EU’s external relations. The potential of the European languages spoken in third countries should be realised in full by promoting the teaching and learning of these languages. Simultaneously, it is important to promote the teaching and learning of non-European languages in the EU. To this end, the Commission will:

  • cooperate with third countries on multilingualism;
  • promote European languages in third countries.

Similarly, Member States are encouraged to develop their cooperation with relevant institutes to also further European languages in third countries.

RELATED ACTS

Council Resolution of 21 November 2008 on a European strategy for multilingualism [Official Journal C 320 of 16.12.2008].
With this resolution, the Council is inviting the Member States and the Commission to promote:

  • multilingualism, in order to enhance social cohesion, intercultural dialogue and European construction;
  • lifelong language learning, in particular among young people and language teachers;
  • the role of multilingualism in the competitiveness of Europe’s economy as well as in the mobility and employability of Europe’s citizens;
  • linguistic diversity and intercultural dialogue, by further supporting translation so that the circulation of works and the dissemination of ideas in Europe and beyond is encouraged;
  • EU languages worldwide.

In addition, the Council is inviting the Commission to support Member States with regard to the above, adopt measures that consider the linguistic needs of citizens and institutions, as well as to review the language skills situation in Europe on a regular basis.

Last updated: 06.08.2009
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