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Multilingualism in the EU: call for action

Multilingualism in the EU: the European Commission calls for action to promote languages and launches a new Web portal

Under the watchword: “The more languages you know, the more of a person you are,” the European Commission reaffirms its own commitment to multilingualism in adopting today its first ever Communication on this issue. The document explores the various facets of the Commission’s policies in this field and sets out a new framework strategy for multilingualism with proposals for specific actions. These cover three distinct areas where languages are of importance in the everyday lives of people in the European Union: society, the economy and the Commission’s own relations with the EU’s citizens. The Commission calls on the Member States to play their part in furthering the teaching, learning and use of languages. To mark the occasion, a new Web portal on languages has been launched on the EU’s interinstitutional Website EUROPA, with access in all the 20 official languages.

In the words of Ján Figel’, Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism: “Languages are what makes us human, and Europe’s linguistic diversity is at the core of its identity. Exactly a year ago today, I was appointed as the first European Commissioner ever to be given specific responsibility for Multilingualism. The Communication adopted today is another clear signal of the Commission’s commitment to promoting languages and linguistic diversity in the Union.”

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According to a recent Eurobarometer survey[1], half of the EU’s citizens say they can hold a conversation in a second language apart from their mother tongue. The Communication adopted today sees language knowledge as a desirable life-skill for all EU citizens, and presents the various actions set up by the Commission to promote and develop language skills and linguistic diversity still further. Through the Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci programmes, for example, the Commission puts 30 M€ each year into actions such as training, mobility of students and teachers and funding class exchanges.

The Communication stresses the importance of language skills to worker mobility and the competitiveness of the EU economy. The Commission will publish a study next year on the impact on the European economy of shortages of languages skills. And more needs to be done, it says, to strengthen the role of the multi-million-euro language industries which are continuing to grow in the European Union.

To do a better job of providing citizens with access to information about the European Union in their own languages, especially about legislation, procedures and policies, the Commission says:

• It will make its many websites more multilingual, setting up an internal network to make sure that there is consistency in its departments’ linguistic practice , and

• It will establish a pro-active multilingual communication policy, to complement the Commission’s wider initiative to improve communication with European citizens and specific groups such as journalists, the language industry, schools and universities.

The Commission will invest more in language-related research into ways of overcoming language barriers through new information and communication technologies, as well as in the field of social and human sciences.

Within Member States, the Commission proposes the adoption of national action plans to promote multilingualism, further improvements in language teacher training, adequate provision for early language learning, and more teaching of school subjects through a foreign language. The Commission recalls that at the 2002 Barcelona European Council, the Heads of State and Government called for at least two foreign languages to be taught from a very early age. It also asks Member States to review training programmes at universities to ensure that they equip students in the language professions with the right skills.

The Commission proposes the setting up of a High-Level Group on Multilingualism, made up of independent experts, to help it analyse the progress made by Member States and to provide fresh ideas, support and advice in future initiatives.

A ministerial conference on multilingualism will be held in the near future to allow Member States to share the progress made and plan future work.

The European Commission today also launched a Web portal on languages.[2] It will be an easy point of entry for the general public, the media or students to information about languages from the European Union. The subjects covered range from the Union’s policies to encourage language learning and linguistic diversity, by way of a review of language skills in the Union today, to the rules for the use of the EU's own official languages and a round-up of employment opportunities for professional linguists with the Union’s institutions. The content is organised in a logical and user-friendly way and, most importantly, all the navigational and presentational text in the portal itself is provided in all 20 official languages - reflecting the Union’s commitment to communicating with its citizens in their own language.
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