Doc. 8522

17 September 1999

Linguistic diversification

Recommendation 1383 (1998)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 679th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (15 September 1999)

The Committee of Ministers has taken note with interest of Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1383 (1998) on linguistic diversification.

The Committee of Ministers shares the view, affirmed in the Recommendation, that linguistic diversity is a precious cultural asset that must be preserved and protected. The Council of Europe's work on language learning, on the defence and promotion of cultural diversity and on the protection and promotion of regional or minority languages bears witness to member states' determination to preserve the richness and variety of languages and cultures which constitute Europe's special character.

Nevertheless, the Committee of Ministers considers it important to emphasise that it must not be just a matter of passively watching over what already exists. Languages and language skills are dynamic entities which must be actively developed in order to preserve them. Indeed, the Committee of Ministers believes that the teaching of a wide range of foreign languages and that of regional or minority languages not only have to be regarded as complementing each other, and not as alternatives, but together represent an essential contribution to the preservation of Europe's cultural diversity, to the development of improved understanding and to the building of trust among its citizens.

Where the proposals put forward by the Assembly in paragraph 7 of the Recommendation are concerned, the Committee of Ministers draws to the attention of the Assembly the following information and considerations:

In respect of paragraphs 7.i and iv

The Council for Cultural Co-operation (CDCC) continues to attach great priority in its work to the "Modern Languages" project, which centres on a number of "poles" intended to promote linguistic diversity, such as the Common European Framework of Reference, the European Language Portfolio, the "threshold levels", the development of national policies and the preparation of the European Year of Languages planned for 2001. As mentioned by the Assembly in its Recommendation, the CDCC, in 1998-99, carried out a study of linguistic diversification in Europe, which was included in the file for the Conference on "Linguistic Diversity for Democratic Citizenship in Europe", held in May 1999.

The CDCC, which already works in co-operation with the European Union, was also able to make use of the Eurydice data base, which is a valuable source of information about languages and language teaching in Europe, when preparing the report on the study. As the Council of Europe and European Union have different but complementary approaches to developing language policies, the Secretariat is endeavouring to develop synergies between the two institutions, while avoiding duplication. Closer co-operation would in fact be helpful to the CDCC in its proposed work on the analysis of language policies with a view to promoting policy measures encouraging greater diversification.

The CDCC experts who work on these subjects are giving thought to the possibility of repeating the aforementioned comparative study so as to produce, if they are needed, periodical reports on member states' language policies.

In respect of paragraph 7.ii

Recommendation No. R (98) 6 of the Committee of Ministers concerning modern languages highlights the political importance of the development of specific fields of action, such as strategies for diversifying and intensifying language learning in order to promote plurilingualism in a pan-European context.

The starting of modern language learning at an early age is one of the main points made by this Recommendation, according to which it is nevertheless appropriate to take account of the particular circumstances of each country. At whatever age such learning begins, European states are encouraged to ensure that students, in addition to in-depth studies in at least one foreign language, "achieve a degree of communicative ability in a number of languages.

In respect of paragraph 7.iii

The members of the Parliamentary Assembly who are also members of the Council for Cultural Co-operation make sure that the Assembly is informed of the CDCC's projects and activities, including the European Year of Languages planned for 2001. The Committee of Ministers invites the Assembly to make full use of the means of participating in the work of the CDCC available to it through its status within the CDCC, and also to play a full part in the European Year of Languages, in which linguistic diversity will play a key role.

In respect of paragraph 7.v

The new project of the Higher Education and Research Committee (CC-HER) entitled "Lifelong learning for social cohesion: a new challenge to higher education" satisfies the Assembly's wish for the work of the CDCC and its specialised committees in the field of lifelong education and new technologies to include a linguistic dimension.

In respect of paragraph 8

The Committee of Ministers wishes to draw attention to Recommendation No. R (95) 8 on academic mobility, which encourages states and higher education establishments to consider the measures they could take in order to ensure that a broad range of foreign languages is taught, including those spoken less widely.

The work done on regional co-operation in higher education has inter alia made it possible to identify many regional co-operation projects with a linguistic dimension. The 1997 conference on this theme organised in co-operation with the Nordic Council of Ministers issued a recommendation that educational exchanges between regions be used at all levels to encourage the learning of a second foreign language, preferably that of a neighbouring country.

The Committee of Ministers acknowledges that the development of language co-operation agreements between border regions would also be an important contribution to building confidence among neighbours.

The creation of networks of schools and higher education establishments is another possible way of ensuring that the teaching of a variety of languages is available.

The Committee of Ministers also draws attention to its Recommendations on mobility1, also intended to lead to a review of national legislation preventing the use of languages other than the national language in higher education establishments.

The use of new technologies in language teaching is one of the subjects of the future project on "The new role of the teacher in the information society", which the CC-HER plans to propose as a joint activity with the Education Committee (CC-ED).

Similarly, the CC-HER activity entitled "European Studies for Democratic Citizenship" meets the Assembly's concern for knowledge of the culture and society of the country of the language under study to be included in language lessons proper.

The Committee of Ministers points out that the quality of foreign language teaching is a long-standing concern of the CDCC, which, in the Common European Framework of Reference, puts forward reference criteria on which the European Association for Quality Language Services (EAQUALS), among others, draws to promote, within a non-prescriptive framework, the adoption and application of common quality standards for language teaching.

The European Centre for Modern Languages, in Graz, also makes a significant contribution to linguistic diversification, through its training activities for language teachers from a large number of European countries, covering inter alia linguistic and teaching methods applicable to a large variety of languages.

The Committee of Ministers also notes that the Recommendation refers to a number of measures aimed at fostering the protection and promotion of regional or minority languages and reiterates its conviction that these languages are very important, not just for the preservation of the European cultural heritage, but also for the fostering of tolerance, mutual understanding and democratic stability in the states concerned.

The implementation of such measures as exchanges between schools, language study trips and the production of audiovisual materials and printed texts in the languages referred to obviously depends on the situation prevailing in each member state. The Committee of Ministers notes however that the implementation of these measures could facilitate, for the states wishing to do so, their preparations for ratification of the relevant legal instruments of the Council of Europe.

Finally, the Recommendation invites member states to take account of the presence of human groups of foreign origin on their territory when deciding on priorities for each state's language policies. While acknowledging that the languages of those groups cannot claim any protection under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the Committee of Ministers deems it useful for member states to pay attention to the presence of groups of foreign origin on their territory when devising and implementing their linguistic policies.

The Committee of Ministers wishes to conclude by informing the Parliamentary Assembly that Recommendation 1383 (1998) has been communicated to the governments of member states.

1 No. R (85) 21 on mobility of academic staff; No. R (90) 15 with a view to fostering the mobility of researchers in Europe; No. R (95) 8 on academic mobility; No. R (96) 7 on regional academic mobility.