Next Wednesday, 26.9., is the European Day of Languages. I thought I would write a little about the day and languages in Europe, since the day is very relevant to my blog.
the origin and the purpose
Year 2001 was the year of languages in European Union and the Day of Languages was decided to be held each year to promote the goals of that year. The year, and subsequently the day, was meant to follow on the Recommendation 1383 (1998) for language diversification. This recommendation noted that while English is studied pretty much everywhere, other languages are starting to lose their significance. English is important as lingua franca, but it is important that we keep learning other languages and that everyone has the possibility for information on their own language. In addition, it was emphasized that one doesn’t need to master another language, sometimes communicational skills are sufficient.
- to raise awareness of the importance of language learning in order to increase plurilingualism and intercultural understanding;
- to promote the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe;
- to encourage lifelong language learning in and out of school.
languages of the European Union
The European Union has 24 official languages at the moment, with three being higher level working languages: English, French, and German. There are also 60 regional/minority languages. All in all there are over 200 languages spoken in Europe. You can listen to samples of all official languages of EU here.
All these official languages mean that European Union has one of the largest translation services in the world. This is due to the 24 languages making 552 possible language combinations, for which you need translators. While English is used as lingua franca, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are allowed to use any of the official languages to address the parliament (you can read more about the translation in EU from here).
The whole EU language policy is actually much bigger thing than I expected. And it’s quite fascinating (I’m sure many people disagree on this with me). It would take a long time to actually go into it, so I will just provide a link to the language policy homepage here, and a link to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
Influence of Brexit
There has been some speculation of what it means for English as the most widely used language in EU that the only country nominating English as an official language is leaving the EU. Notably, Danuta Hübner, the head of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), discussed the possibility of English not being an official EU language after Brexit.
There are other opinions, though, which think this is highly unlikely due to the amount of people speaking English as a second language. However, it might change the role of English and the way English is spoken in Europe. There is already something called “Euro-English”, which might develop to its own special form of English, when the British are gone.
In my personal opinion, English won’t disappear from EU. It’s too much of a lingua franca in the whole world. However, this might boost the importance of languages like German and French. And it might even get the British to understand the importance of learning other languages.
CEFR and the European Language Portfolio
For language learners, the initiatives for language learning also offer practical tools.There is, of course the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), that is used widely in Europe and somewhat also outside Europe. This helps with defining your level in a certain language and for others to understand what your level is.
In addition, you can now make your own language portfolio. The EU has developed a European Language Portfolio (ELP). This consists of a summary of your language skills, mainly a Language Passport and a Language Biography. These pages have several templates that one can use to create their own portfolio. You can track your goals and also it can help you to describe your level to for example possible employers, when you haven’t been studying certain languages formally or have no exams showing your level.
If you are someone who likes to track their progress and goals, these might come in handy. I haven’t used these templates myself, but I am tempted to develop something for my use and I would most likely use these as a starting point.
I haven’t actually properly noticed the European Day of Languages before. But I will mark it on my calendar from now on. I learned a lot about EU’s language policies while writing this post, so that was useful, if nothing else. While I think it’s important to have some kind of lingua franca, which English is at the moment, I think it’s also important to learn other languages to understand cultural differences and how sometimes for us who don’t speak English as their native language, it can be hard to express yourself the way you want to.
I’m very happy to notice that EU has these policies about promoting regional and minority languages. I just wish that the countries would do more to make sure these contracts are properly put into action. But at least there seems to be a will to do this in Europe, so I am hopeful for the future.