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European Commission - Press release

10th European Day of Languages: what's happening near you

Brussels, 23 September 2011 – 'You live a new life for every new language you speak; if you know only one language, you live only once.' This Czech proverb is one of the slogans for the 10th European Day of Languages, which will be marked on and around 26 September with events including conferences, quizzes, poetry readings and street games (full list here). The aim is to promote language learning and celebrate Europe's linguistic diversity, from the 23 'official' languages of the EU to its wealth of co-official, regional and minority languages and dialects. Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, will sign a joint declaration with Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, to re-affirm their commitment to multilingualism. The EU's Polish Presidency has put language learning high on its agenda and is urging young people to learn two languages in addition to their mother-tongue to further their personal and professional goals.

"The benefits of speaking a language other than your native tongue are easy to see. Whether you're working abroad in Germany, studying in France or on holiday in Cyprus, it's a huge advantage to be able to communicate directly with the local population. Languages broaden the mind, open up new horizons and will increase your employability," said Commissioner Vassiliou.

The EU invests €1 billion a year on schemes to boost language skills and other competences through initiatives such as Erasmus, which allows higher education students to spend part of their studies or training in another country. 400 000 predominantly young people benefit from EU 'mobility' grants each year through Erasmus and other schemes such as Leonardo da Vinci (vocational training) and Youth in Action (volunteering/youth work). As part of its commitment to language learning and skills, the Commission wants to double the number of these grants under its proposed budget for 2014-2020 (see IP/11/857). In addition, the EU invests around €50 million a year to support language-based activities and projects.

Background

The first European Day of Languages, celebrated in 45 countries, was held in 2001 at the initiative of the Council of Europe. It aims to raise public awareness of the languages used in Europe, to promote cultural and linguistic diversity and to encourage people to learn languages.

The Commission and the Polish Presidency are organising a conference on language learning in Warsaw on 28-29 September. As part of this, they will host a ceremony to honour the best national and European language initiatives (Language Label Projects Awards, 28 September) and a lunch to promote how languages can create opportunities for small businesses and their staff (29 September).

The Commission's translation 'field offices' across the EU are organising numerous events, and the highlights include a Language Music Festival in London, launched as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, a round-table on the role of language skills for integration in Berlin, and poetry readings by translators and artists in various languages in four cities in Latvia. A campaign to attract more Dutch-language interpreters to the EU institutions will be launched in Brussels and the Hague.

For more information:

Warsaw conference website:

http://konferencje.frse.org.pl/multilingualism/program/lang:en

More about the Lifelong Learning Programme: Languages Website

http://ec.europa.eu/education/languages/funding/index_en.htm

Languages and business:

http://ec.europa.eu/languages/languages-mean-business/index_en.htm

European Language Label:

http://ec.europa.eu/education/languages/european-language-label/index_en.htm

Annex 1 – Words of wisdom about languages

'The man who does not know other languages, unless he is a man of genius, necessarily has deficiencies in his ideas' - Victor Hugo, French novelist and poet (1802-1885)

'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart' – Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, leader of anti-apartheid movement (1918 -)

'You live a new life for every new language you speak. If you know only one language, you live only once' (Kolik jazyků znáš, tolikrát jsi člověkem) - Czech proverb

'The limits of my language are the limits of my universe' (Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt) - Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian philospher, teacher (1889-1951)

'Those who know no foreign language know nothing of their mother tongue' (Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen) - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, artist, polymath (1749-1832)

'A different language is a different vision of life' - Federico Fellini, Italian film director famed for La Dolce Vita (1920-1993)

Annex 2 – Ten EU language policy facts

  • EU language policies aim to protect linguistic diversity and to promote knowledge of languages for reasons of cultural identity and social integration, but also because multilingual citizens are better placed to take advantage of education and job opportunities in the Single Market

  • The key policy goal is a Europe where everyone is taught at least two languages in addition to their own mother tongue from a very early age. The 'mother-tongue +2' objective was set by EU heads of state and government at the Barcelona Summit, 15-16 March 2002.

  • The European Union has 23 official and working languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.

  • EU rights and obligations regarding languages are safeguarded by European law. For example, the EU Treaty (Art 3) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Art 21 & 22) prohibit discrimination on grounds of language and state that the Union shall respect linguistic diversity.

  • The first Community Regulation, passed in 1958, requires the Community institutions to translate legislation into all official EU languages (Article 4), as well as to reply to inquiries from citizens in the same language as the inquiry (Article 2, also Articles 20 & 24 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

  • The total cost of translation and interpretation in all the EU institutions (including the European Commission, European Parliament, the Council, Court of Justice of the European Union, European Court of Auditors, European Economic and Social Committee, Committee of Regions) is around €1 billion per year. This represents less than 1% of the EU budget or just over €2 per citizen. The European Commission employs around 3000 staff translators and interpreters.

  • Regarding the Commission's websites, there is no legal obligation to translate. However, the Commission makes every effort to provide as much information as possible on its websites, in as many languages as possible.

  • The most widely spoken mother tongue in the EU is German, while 51% of adults say they can understand English.

  • According to a Eurobarometer survey on Europeans and their languages in 2006, 56% of EU citizens are able to hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue and 28% can master two languages in addition to their native language. 44% of Europeans admit they can't speak any language other than their mother tongue.

The most multilingual EU country is Luxembourg where 99% of citizens master at least one foreign language, followed by 97% of Slovaks and 95% of Latvians. The least multilingual EU countries are Ireland (34%) and the UK (38%).

Contacts :

Dennis Abbott (+32 2 295 92 58)

Dina Avraam (+32 2 295 96 67)


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