EU to promote language learning as ‘leisure’


More needs to be done to promote language learning outside of formal educational settings if breakthroughs are to be made in spreading language use across the EU, Commissioner Leonard Orban will say today, presenting the conclusions of a report on multilingualism.

Encouraging EU citizens to speak at least two “adoptive languages” – languages other than their mother tongue and used on a lifelong basis at work or at home – is a key focus of a High-Level Group report due to be presented today (31 January) by Commissioner for Multilingualism Leonard Orban.

The report – entitled “A Rewarding Challenge: How the Multiplicity of Languages could strengthen Europe” – says the Commission must do more to promote language learning outside of schools and universities, stressing in particular that more effort must be made to target adult learners. It suggests that language learning be made part of leisure activities such as sports. 

However, Orban’s spokesman Pietro Petrucci told EURACTIV that education remains a national competence and the EU executive could only circulate best practice and give guidelines. 

Among the other measures that can be promoted at EU level, the report specifically calls for EU-wide programmes such as “Youth in Action”, “Europe for Citizens” and “Lifelong Learning” be further developed to encourage foreign language learning and widen contact between speakers of different languages. 

Moreover, it calls on the Commission to convene a meeting of experts from higher education, relevant organisations and member-state authorities to consider the translation and interpretation issues that should be addressed at EU level. 

The Slovenian EU presidency is preparing to host a ministerial conference entitled “Promoting multilingualism: A shared commitment” on 15 February 2008. The conference will present the Council’s views on the Adult Learning Action Plan and conclude with an inter-institutional declaration designating 2009 the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, Petrucci said. 

Pietro PetrucciCommissioner Orban's spokesman, told EURACTIV that the Commission considered the High-Level Group's report "useful" and would take its conclusions into account when formulating its September proposals, which would be a "fully-fledged review of the entire multilingualism policy called 'A new strategy for multilingualism'". 

German MP Klaus-Peter Willsch (CDU) wants to strengthen the use of German in the EU and - together with the Association for German Language - is calling for all official internet pages of the EU institutions, as well as all relevant documents, to be translated into German. 

"The German language must at least be put on an equal footing with English and French," Willsch said, adding that "discrimination" against German in the EU "cannot continue". He is particularly critical of the European Parliament, whose website he claims often makes information available in just English or French or even exclusively English. "German citizens must have the opportunity to inform themselves of the activities of this vital political decision-making institution in their mother tongue," he said. 

The independent 'High-Level Group of Intellectuals and Language Experts' – comprising a diverse range of figures including writers and philosophers - was set up by the Commission in September 2006 to explore how multilingualism can contribute to European integration. 

The Commission is set to publish its new strategy on multilingualism in the second half of 2008, while the EU institutions are currently reviewing their translation and interpreting regimes as part of a wider debate over the scope and cost of multilingualism policy. 

This year has been designated the 'European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008' (EYID), whose remit includes the promotion of multilingualism. 

  • 15 Feb. 2008: Ministerial conference on multilingualism. 
  • 15 April 2008: Public hearing on multilingualism. 
  • Sept. 2008: Commission scheduled to adopt Communication on multilingualism. 

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