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Embracing Multilingualism

  • February 6th, 2008
  • Posted by Sian Graham

european-union-flag.jpgIn a year dedicated to intercultural dialogue the EU is preparing for its inaugural ministerial conference on multilingualism which begins next Friday (15.2.08).

Keen to promote language learning all 27 Member States have agreed to send their Education Ministers to attend the conference.

Last year the Commission assigned a group of intellectuals the task of “defining the contribution of multilingualism to intercultural dialogue” and on Friday (1.2.08) they released their recommendations.

The report suggests the EU advocate the idea of a “personal adoptive language.”

It is thought that every European be encouraged to learn a different language – to embrace a second “mother tongue”.

The report stresses the need for cooperation as it envisages education will play a pivotal role across all levels.

It comes amid what the EU sees as rivalry among languages, particularly disputes over the use of English.

EU officials say they hope to overcome the sense of rivalry by strengthening intercultural connections among people of the Member States.

“A good knowledge of other languages builds bridges and promotes understanding between cultures”, said the Multilingualism Commissioner, Leonard Orban.


Europe has proven itself already as a leader in multilingual education with the Commission’s Eurobarometer survey in 2005 showing that in some European countries, “nearly everyone speaks at least two languages.”

However any visitor travelling through Europe will hear that many of its people are already proficient in one particular language – English.

The European Commission, while acknowledging this fact, and also world dominance of the English tongue, says command of that language alone is increasingly not enough — neither for its native speakers, nor others.

The idea of a “personal adoptive language” differs from Europe’s past language learning intentions in that the focus is taken off acquiring a language merely for international communication, in favour of doing it for love of language, as something culturally desired.

The report suggests that for countries where the mother tongue holds a dominant place in the world, particularly England, there’s no room for complacency in diversified world marketplaces,

Acquiring a personal adoptive language has become vital.

“Without a special effort to promote, from the very earliest age, the intensive learning of an additional language, the advantage which English speakers today have, would rapidly become eroded, and the globalisation of their mother tongue would have an adverse effect on their competitiveness at both individual and collective levels,” it said.


During the 1980’s the Australian Government documented “focus areas” for languages, which it believed would be beneficial for trade and business relations.

Typically these prioritised Asian languages but no specific education policies were implemented.

LOTE courses in Australian schools remain limited; often, introducing the option of learning another language is held back until high school, so official figures that show only 13% of secondary students are completing high school with a foreign language.

While English is the language of global trade and commerce, concerns about lack of language ability isolating Australia from its partners has resulted in the issue being placed on the agenda for “Australia 2020”.

The new Australian government is convening “Australia 2020” , sits broad-ranging policy consultation with 1000 key citizens, at Parliament House in Canberra, in April.

The Summit is billed as bringing together some of the best and brightest brains from across the country to tackle long term challenges confronting Australia’s future – including language learning.

Experts and leading politicians will examine “the long-term adequacy of Australia’s existing foreign language capabilities to meet the increasingly complex challenges presented by globalisation.”


European Commission, “A Rewarding Challenge: How the Multiplicity of Languages Could Strengthen Europe”, 1.2.08., (6.2.08).

Prime Minister of Australia, “Australia 2020 Summit”, 3.2.08., (6.2.08).