Doc. 9194

10 September 2001

European Year of Languages

Report

Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Rapporteur: Mr Jacques Legendre, France, European Democratic Group

Summary

European Year of Languages 2001 is based on the principle that each language is unique, that all languages are equally valid as modes of expression for those who use them, and that this rich worldwide linguistic heritage has to be preserved.

Developing plurilingualism, which is necessary in order to respond to changes in Europe, is one of the Year’s core objectives. Throughout life, each person can, or should be able to, acquire the ability to communicate in several languages, if not master them. In order to provide a valued record of this ability, the Council of Europe has devised a major instrument, the European Language Portfolio.

The report also proposes that language policies be put in place, with the aim above all of encouraging cultural and linguistic diversity and promoting social and interethnic cohesion, by protecting minority languages, encouraging people to learn the languages of neighbours and neighbouring cultures and protecting cultural works in European languages in the context of globalisation.

I.       Draft recommendation

1.       The Assembly welcomes the European Year of Languages 2001, an initiative of the Council of Europe taken up by the European Union. It recalls in this respect its own Recommendation 1383 (1998) on linguistic diversification and its reports on minority languages.

2.       The Assembly fully supports the objectives of the Year, which is intended to raise public awareness of the need to protect and promote Europe’s rich linguistic heritage. It is also aimed at achieving public recognition of the fact that each language has unique value, and that all languages are equally valid as modes of expression for those who use them.

3.       The Assembly welcomes the fact that the European Year of Languages is not just the year of European languages and that it advocates receptiveness to the whole world, including all languages and cultures which are represented on the European continent.

4.       A central focus of the campaign is the development of plurilingualism, which should be understood as a certain ability to communicate in several languages, and not necessarily as perfect mastery of them. The Year also provides an opportunity to emphasise that all people can and should have the chance to learn languages throughout their lives. The European Language Portfolio, officially launched by the Council of Europe this year, will enable each citizen to keep a record of and maximise the language skills (including partial skills) that he or she has already acquired and will continue to acquire, both within and outside the formal education system.

5.       All have the right to speak their own mother tongue and to learn other languages of their choice; the ability to exercise this right freely is a prerequisite for personal and career development, the mobility of people and ideas, and the promotion of dialogue, tolerance, understanding and mutual enrichment of peoples and cultures. Communication skills in other languages are essential in order to respond to cultural, economic and social changes in Europe.

6.       The choice of languages learned is strongly influenced by economic and geopolitical factors. However, the Assembly is convinced that the process of choosing should not be based entirely on this type of consideration and recalls in that regard the Committee of Ministers Declaration on cultural diversity. States should demonstrate their political will and continue to implement cultural and language policies aimed at developing plurilingualism and protecting all languages spoken in their territories from the risk of extinction.

7.       Linguistic diversity has many facets, from the protection of minority languages, many of which are dying out, to the advantage of learning the languages of neighbours and neighbouring cultures and the protection of culture and cultural works in all European languages in the context of globalisation. The Assembly hopes that the Year will act as a stimulus for the development of language policies encouraging, above all, cultural and linguistic diversity and promoting the integration of minorities and immigrants, social cohesion in general and human rights.

8.       The Assembly encourages national parliaments to pay greater attention to language issues by holding special debates on the subject and urging their members to table parliamentary questions.

9.       The Assembly notes that 26 September 2001 has been designated European Day of Languages and will make its own contribution to the Year on that occasion.

10.       Accordingly, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.       organise a European Day of Languages each year in order to pursue the aims of the Year, as they are essentially long-term objectives;

ii.       review the many interesting initiatives designed to promote and improve language learning that have been the direct or indirect result of the Year, with a view to continuing to develop them and report back on this to the Assembly;

iii.       implement cross-sectoral projects on linguistic and cultural diversity, concerning, for instance, the future development of European language cultures in the context of globalisation and the role of language policies in furthering social cohesion and interethnic tolerance;

iv.       encourage member states to protect and promote regional, minority or lesser used languages in order to guarantee linguistic and cultural diversity and to prevent their extinction, in particular by urging member states to sign and ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages;

v.       urge member states parties to the European Cultural Convention that have not yet become part of the Enlarged Partial Agreement on the European Centre for Modern Languages in Graz to do so as soon as possible;

vi.       urge the Joint Council, the Advisory Council, the CDEJ and the Programming Committee of the Directorate of Youth and Sport, to reinstall ‘courses in languages and intercultural learning’ for European youth leaders in the European Youth Centres’ regular programme of activities.

11.       The Assembly also recommends that the Committee of Ministers call on member states:

i.       to maintain and develop further the Council of Europe’s language policy initiatives for promoting plurilingualism, cultural diversity and understanding among peoples and nations;

ii.       to encourage all Europeans to acquire a certain ability to communicate in several languages, for example by promoting diversified novel approaches adapted to individual needs and encouraging the use of the European Language Portfolio;

iii.       to encourage the relevant institutions to use the Common European Framework of Reference drawn up by the Council of Europe to develop their language policies, so as to ensure the quality of language teaching and learning and improve international co-ordination;

iv.       to pursue the objectives set out in Assembly Recommendation 1383 (1998) on linguistic diversification, and in particular the acquisition of satisfactory skills in at least two European or world languages by all school-leavers and diversification of the range of languages offered, which should meet the needs of personal, national, regional and international communication.

II.       Explanatory memorandum by Mr Legendre

Background

1.       The Council of Europe decided to launch a European Year of Languages (EYL) at its Second Summit in 1997, which, inter alia, emphasised the importance of promoting European citizenship and maintaining Europe’s linguistic and cultural heritage. The Assembly endorsed this idea in its Recommendation 1383 (1998), on the basis of a report on linguistic diversification which I presented myself.

2.       In January 1999, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe designated 2001 the European Year of Languages. On 13 October 1999, the European Commission adopted the proposal for a decision establishing the European Year of Languages 2001. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers (of the European Union) adopted the final decision on 17 July 2000 (Official Journal L232 – Decision 1934/2000/EC). The Council of Europe and the European Union have now joined forces to organise the EYL.

3.       The EYL is the first event of its kind on the subject of languages to be launched by the Council of Europe, although linguistic diversity has been one of the major themes of the “Europe, a common heritage” campaign and the campaign against racism and intolerance.

Why a Year of Languages?

4.       The choice of languages we learn is strongly influenced by economic and geopolitical factors. From that point of view, no one can dispute the role and importance of English today; it has become the world’s lingua franca. As a result, the education systems of European countries have become heavily weighted towards learning English, to the detriment of other languages. We do not deny that knowledge of English is important and useful, but we cannot accept that English should be the sole means of communication between people of different languages and cultures.

5.       With regard to the choice of languages on offer, there is a disparity between what governments say about language policy and what they do. For example, a study by the French Senate showed that, despite the fact that a large number of languages can be learned in France, in practice the languages on offer are essentially limited to English as first language and Spanish as second. Such important languages as German, Italian and Russian have been abandoned and specialists in these languages have no opportunity to teach them. The two countries at the centre of Europe, France and Germany, are less and less capable of communicating with each other in their own languages.

6.       In most of our countries, teaching of the major world languages – not only the most distant, such as Chinese, Hindi or Japanese, but also those which are on Europe’s doorstep, such as Arabic – remains limited mainly to immigrants and diasporas. At a colloquy on culture and co-operation between the Council of Europe and Mediterranean non-member countries, held by the Committee on Culture and Education in Palma de Mallorca (22-24 October 2000), representatives of the parliaments of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia vigorously deplored that fact. They emphasised in particular that their countries offered teaching in many European languages, in some cases as a core element in their school, university and training systems. In return, they asked that Europe open up to their culture and language, notably by teaching children Arabic, so as to put dialogue and co-operation on a more equal footing (see AS/Cult (2000) 35).

7.       The right to learn languages is a vital human right; the ability to exercise it freely is a prerequisite for individual and career development, the mobility of people and ideas, and the promotion of dialogue, tolerance, understanding and mutual enrichment of peoples and cultures.

8.       In addition to the economic advantages of a knowledge of other languages, it has been demonstrated that people who speak more than one language communicate better with people of other cultures and are able to build cultural bridges.

9.       To sum up, it is cultural diversity that we defend or harm through language teaching. In that context, the considerations which should guide the development of language policies are not very different from those which form the basis of Europe’s position in the World Trade Organisation talks on the market for cultural products. The Declaration on cultural diversity, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 7 December 2000, therefore emphasised that “cultural and audiovisual policies, which promote and respect cultural diversity, are a necessary complement to trade policies”.

10.       For all these reasons, it would be a serious mistake to make language teaching subject only to commercial considerations. States should demonstrate their political will and continue to develop cultural and language policies aimed at promoting plurilingualism. There should be state support for all the languages used in Europe. Regrettably, the European Union allocates aid only for the learning of its own official languages. Governments should not only launch linguistic diversification initiatives, but also seek to ensure that parents pay more attention to the choice of languages their children learn.

Objectives of the European Year of Languages

11.       Below is a non-exhaustive list of the Council of Europe’s main objectives for the EYL:

12.       Today, many Europeans actually live in a multilingual environment. Not counting the languages of immigrants and refugees, it is thought that around 225 native languages are still spoken in Europe; this represents less than 5% of the total number of languages spoken in the world.

13.       At the same time, the message of the EYL is that all languages are of equal value, whether or not they are officially recognised. This is indisputable, at least from a scientific point of view. However, many stereotypes regarding languages persist in the human subconscious. Even though most judgments appear to be of a purely “aesthetic” nature – for example, describing a language as “harsh” or “melodious” – they are often linked to judgments about the social, political or historical status of the speakers of the language in question. It is not unusual for young people from immigrant backgrounds or national minorities to want to stop speaking their language of origin because of its low social status (whereas, in fact, it is the social status of the community that speaks the language which is low). Moreover, Europe’s recent history provides plenty of examples of attempts to denigrate or suppress languages which symbolise the independent existence and political legitimacy of minority groups.

14.       We must therefore welcome the fact that the European Year of Languages is not just the year of European languages and that it advocates receptiveness to the whole world, including languages and cultures which are represented on the European continent by immigrants and refugees.

b.       To motivate citizens to develop plurilingualism.

15.       The Council of Europe sees plurilingualism as a concept which goes further than multilingualism. Multilingualism refers to the presence in a single geographical area of more than one language or “language variety”, without meaning that individuals in such an area necessarily speak more than one language. Plurilingualism is the opposite of monolingualism and refers to a person’s multilingual skill.

16.       One of the campaign’s main messages is that it is never too late or too difficult to learn a language. It is a task which is within everyone’s reach and which can be started at any age.

17.       These objectives appear very ambitious and, at first sight, we might wonder to what extent they can produce concrete results on a large scale. In fact, the aim of the campaign is to promote the idea not of being an expert in several languages, but of acquiring a certain level of skill in several languages – for example, being able to understand another language in written or spoken form, even without being able to speak it. Different languages may be learned at different levels of skill.

18.       If we replace the traditional expression “speaking a language” with the concept of a “certain level of skill” in a language, we will find that many more individuals are plurilingual than we imagine. The problem is that they are not regarded as plurilingual because such partial skills are not recognised.

19.       This situation is changing thanks to a major instrument that was developed under the Council of Europe’s Modern Languages Project and is being officially launched during the EYL: the European Language Portfolio. This is a personal document, a kind of language passport, in which learners can record their language skills and their learning experiences at every level. The portfolio will be updated as the holder’s learning progresses and it will be possible to consult it, for example, when the holder looks for a job at home or abroad.

20.       The other major instrument officially launched during the European Year of Languages is the Common European Framework of Reference – an instrument intended for all those involved in language learning and teaching and assessing language skills (for example, syllabus designers, political decision-makers, authors of school textbooks, examiners and teacher trainers).

21.       The EYL should help to highlight and publicise the Council of Europe’s work in language teaching and learning and language policies.

Organisation and main events

22.       The initiatives co-ordinated by the Council of Europe are very broad in scope and concern the whole of Europe: the Council’s 41 member states and all the others which have acceded to the European Cultural Convention – a total of 47 states – have been invited to play an active role. The work is also achieving a global impact through the active participation of Unesco and the interest expressed by Canada. Many NGOs are involved.

23.       The European Year of Languages is co-ordinated – on the Council of Europe’s side – by the Division of Modern Languages of Directorate General IV.

24.       Close co-operation with the European Commission is assured.

25.       Various Council of Europe bodies have also been helping to prepare for the EYL, in particular the European Centre for Modern Languages in Graz, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and other sectors of the organisation.

26.       In all the countries taking part in the campaign, a national committee is co-ordinating national, local and regional initiatives and maintaining links with the Council of Europe and the European Union. A European Steering Group (ESG) is responsible, through its Bureau, for policy and general planning of the Year at international level.

27.       The official European launch of the Year took place in Lund, Sweden, in February 2001; national launches took place between January and April 2001.

28.       One of the highlights has been the European Adult Language-Learners’ Week (5-11 May). To coincide with the Week, a guide was produced jointly by the Division of Modern Languages and the European Union to encourage and support adult language learning. It has been widely distributed and also appears on the two EYL websites.

29.       The Assembly was represented by its President at another major event, the seminar on “Linguistic diversity: role and challenges for European cities and regions”, held by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, the Council of Europe’s Division of Modern Languages and the Croatian government, in Rovinj from 22 to 24 March 2001.

30.       As rapporteur on linguistic diversification, I was invited to represent the Assembly at a round table on the European Year of Languages held by the European Parliament on 30 May 2001.

31.       The other highlight of the campaign will be the European Day of Languages on 26 September 2001. This is a new joint initiative of the Council of Europe and the European Commission. Apart from a project launched in 1997 by an NGO (the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages), no similar language-related event has been organised at international level.

32.       The Council of Europe is also organising a series of European and regional activities to promote the Year’s objectives; a number of events are concerned with the introduction of the European Language Portfolio in member states.

33.       A large number of varied activities are taking place in member states.

34.       The complete list, along with more details, can be consulted on the EYL’s two main websites. The joint site set up by the Council of Europe and the European Union (www.eurolang2001.org) offers interactive material, recreational sections and discussion forums. The Council of Europe’s own site (http://culture.coe.int/AEL2001EYL) offers background documents and illustrates the theme “Europe – a wealth of languages” with, among other things, the two slogans in a large variety of languages and a text on linguistic diversity. The two sites provide many links to other sources and to sites set up by national EYL co-ordinators.

Recommendations on follow-up to the campaign

35.       As we have seen, the EYL’s objectives are essentially long-term ones. They require considerable political will and a permanent change in public opinion, which has not yet been won over to the cause of plurilingualism.

36.       It will not be possible to assess the precise impact of the first Day of Languages, 26 September 2001, until after the event. However, the encouraging responses already received during the national and local planning processes in many European countries suggest that the Day could be made a regular event in the future. The Assembly should enthusiastically encourage a decision to that effect.

37.       Specific arrangements for an annual Day of Languages will probably be made at an intergovernmental conference in spring 2002, where a new modern languages programme will be launched and the results of current projects, including EYL projects, will be reviewed. However, it is already clear that many of the initiatives and activities launched as part of the EYL are worth continuing. The Council of Europe should therefore review the many interesting initiatives designed to promote and improve language learning which have resulted directly or indirectly from the Year, so that they can be further developed.

38.       Moreover, given that recognition of partial skills is a revolutionary concept, it will require considerable work and changes in attitudes. The Committee of Ministers should urge member states to support and further develop initiatives aimed at expanding plurilingualism and pluriculturalism, such as the European Language Portfolio, the Guide for the Development of Language Education Policies and the descriptions of language teaching objectives (including threshold levels).

39.       The EYL has focused particularly on celebrating linguistic diversity and promoting plurilingualism. However, it is important to realise that this is an extremely broad subject. It has many dimensions, from the protection of minority languages, many of which are dying out, through the need to learn the languages of neighbours and neighbouring cultures, to the protection of culture and cultural works in the context of globalisation. In the follow-up to the campaign, the Council of Europe could consider developing cross-sectoral projects on plurilingualism and cultural diversity. For example, in the context of globalisation, what are the chances of cultural works (books, films, songs) in European languages other than English crossing frontiers and not remaining purely domestic products? What role do language policies play in promoting social cohesion and interethnic tolerance?

40.       It is also important that all countries participating in the European Cultural Convention join the Enlarged Partial Agreement on the European Centre for Modern Languages in Graz. With the recent accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Armenia, the ECML has now 31 member States. For several years now, the Centre has been offering – generally through international and regional workshops or seminars, a meeting place and working platform to work out projects for officials responsible for language policy, specialists in didactics, teacher trainers, textbook authors and other multipliers in the area of modern languages. Thus, not only has the ECML promoted the dissemination of good practice in language teaching and learning, but it has also contributed to the respect and reinforcement of linguistic diversity.

41.       The Committee of Ministers should urge the Joint Council, the Advisory Council, the CDEJ and the Programming Committee of the Directorate of Youth and Sport, to reinstall ‘courses in language and intercultural learning’ for European youth leaders in the European Youth Centres’ regular programme of activities. These courses used to offer a different way of learning a language, through enabling members of International non-governmental youth organisations and National Youth Councils and independent NGOs to become more active in international youth work in an increasingly multicultural world. At the same time, they aimed at developing their intercultural awareness and communication skills, which is essential for breaking down barriers of prejudice and intolerance in the greater Europe. The courses were interrupted in 2001 due to budgetary constraints, despite a very high demand from the NGO sector. This proved to be a very unfortunate timing, as it gave a negative image of the contribution of one of the Council of Europe’s sectors to the European Year of languages.

42.       The EYL also gives the Council of Europe a good opportunity to remind to member states the necessity to protect and promote regional or minority languages.

43.       Parliamentarians can greatly contribute to supporting the campaign, particularly by tabling parliamentary questions on subjects such as the current range of languages taught in their countries or efforts to promote the learning of languages of neighbouring countries and regional and minority languages. They can also encourage national initiatives connected with the EYL.

Reporting committee: Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Reference to committee: Doc. 9109 and Reference No. 2624 du 25 juin 2001

Draft recommendation adopted, with two abstentions, by the committee on 5 September 2001

Members of the committee: MM. Rakhansky (Chairman), de Puig, Risari, Billing (Vice-Chairmen), Akhvlediani, Arzilli, Asciak, Berceanu (Alternate: Baciu), Berzinš, Birraux, Mrs Castro (Alternate: Mr Varela i Serra), MM. Chaklein, Cherribi, Cubreacov, Mrs Damanaki, MM. Dias, Dolazza, Duka-Zólyomi, Fayot, Mrs Fernández-Capel, MM. Galoyan, Goris, Haraldsson, Hegyi, Henry, Higgins, Irmer, Mrs Isohookana-Asunmaa, MM. Ivanov, Jakic, Kalkan, Mrs Katseli, MM. Kofod-Svendsen, Kramaric, Mrs Kutraité Giedraitiené, MM. Lachat, Lekberg, Lemoine, Lengagne (Alternate : Mattei), Libicki, Liiv, Mrs Lucyga, MM. Maass, Marmazov (Alternate: Baburin), Marxer, Mateju, McNamara (Alternate: Jackson), Melnikov, Mignon, Minarolli, Nagy, Mrs Nemcova, MM. Nigmatulin, O’Hara, Pavlov, Pingerra, Mrs Pintat Rossell, MM. Prisacaru, Rapson, Roseta, Mrs Saele, Mr Saglam, Mrs Schicker, MM. Schweitzer, Seyidov, Sudarenkov, Symonenko, Tanik, Theodorou, Tudor, Turini, Vakilov (Alternate: Abbasov), Valk, Wilshire, Wittbrodt, Wodarg, Xhaferi

N.B. The names of those present at the meeting are printed in italics

Secretariat of the committee: Mr Grayson, Mr Ary, Mrs Theophilova, Mr Torcătoriu