Language Rich Europe Austria launch took place on 19 June 2012 in Vienna, Austria. The article below is written by Martin Gilbert, Director British Council in Austria.
Photo: Panel at Language Rich Europe launch in Vienna
“In Austria we are not in heaven but we have senior attention on this topic which is good.” Quote overhead at Language Rich Europe launch in Austria referring to the attention that politicians pay to multilingualism.
The very successful launch event of the Language Rich Europe project in Austria was held in the historic buildings of the Diplomatic Academy on 19 June 2012. This was a particularly fitting location for the launch because of its long tradition of multilingualism. Dating back to 1753 the Diplomatic Academy was founded by Empress Maria-Theresia as the Oriental Institute, an educational institute where diplomats could learn foreign languages. The Empress had apparently been dismayed because she felt her diplomats’ language skills were insufficient and trade with the Ottoman Empire was suffering.
The Language Rich Europe event was a lively affair and well attended by around 60 participants from organizations where multilingualism is recognized as an important social , commercial and educational topic. The guest list had been put together with much care in order to ensure that key Austrian figures in government, the public and private sectors, research, academic and NGO networks were informed and invited to attend. It was heartening to see partners involved in multilingualism from networks as varied as the Vienna Board of Education, the University of Vienna, the Österreichische Sprachenkomittee the Chamber of Labour, education think tanks and the Austrian Parents’ Association.
Martin Gilbert, Director Austria welcomed the participants and speakers and outlined the programme. He reminded participants of the aims of the Language Rich Europe project, especially the fact that the project has the relationship between prosperity and multilingualism in its strapline. The link between Maria-Theresia’s 1753 Vienna and her desire to improve trade through multilingual diplomats and the project’s aims provided a nice bridge to the next two influential political figures who outlined federal and Viennese city policy positions on multilingualism.
The Federal Ministry of the Interior was represented by Michael Giradi and the City of Vienna was represented by Kurt Stürzenbecher, a member of the Vienna Provincial Parliament. Michael Giradi, Director of Communications in the Interior Ministry spoke briefly on the value of German and the value of multilingualism and on steps that the Austrian government takes to support multilingualism. He outlined the government position on multilingualism and painted a challenging and positive picture. Dr Stürzenbecher gave numerous examples of how the City of Vienna actively promotes multilingualism. Both speakers were positive and supportive of the Language Rich Europe project.
Aneta Quraishy, the Senior Project Manager gave a lively presentation where she outlined the Language Rich Europe aims. This was followed by Professor Guus Extra from the Netherlands’ Tilburg University’s Centre for Studies of the Multicultural Society, then spoke for almost an hour giving an entertaining and inspiring review of the project. He emphasized that he was giving a “taster”. This proved to be an excellent approach as the material is quite complex. Professor Extra praised Austrian political support for the implementation of policies in multilingualism. All participants received packs with the Language Rich Europe results and Austria Country Profile. Professor Extra raised interest and awareness. After the event all participants also received an email with a link to the presentations and results that are held on the Austria British Council website. Here it is in case you are interested http://www.britishcouncil.org/de/austria-projects-lre-event.htm
After a coffee break that was full of networking and chatter, the second part of the event commenced. The aim was to create a workshop like atmosphere with significant audience involvement allowing participants to discuss and contextualize the results and contribute to the debate. A stated aim was that at the end of the discussion several themes would have emerged leading to topics for further workshops and input to the London Conference later in the year. The themes included early language learning, integration and language, tri-lingualism and teacher training. The discussion was led by Michael Wimmer, Director of EDUCULT, and data collection partner for the project in Austria. Feedback collected at the end of the event highlighted the effectiveness of the panel discussion. The panel was diverse in terms of gender, age, background and career. It consisted of Natasha Ghulan, a 19 year old law student who won the multilingual speech competition Sag’s Multi in 2011; Hans Staud, the owner of a successful company that actively promotes multilingualism; and Eser Akbaba, an experienced multilingual Austrian journalist from the Austrian Broadcasting Company (ORF).
I am going to finish this report with a series of quotes collected by a participant, Marlis Monsberger:
“In Austria we are not in heaven but we have senior attention on this topic which is good.“
“It is easier to be convinced than to be convincing.”
“Wien bekennt sich zur Vielprachigkeit.”
“If the mindset is not open to multilingualism – how can you make policies…”
“Mit mehreren Sprachen gehen mehrere Welten auf.”
“Wenn du eine Sprache sprichst bist du ein Mensch, wenn du mehrere Sprachen sprichst bist du mehrere Menschen und offener.“
“Coming from an international background is a privilege.“
“Nur wenn man die Muttersprache gut spricht, kann man auch gut Deutsch lernen.”
“Integration bedeutet Sprache und Kultur der neuen Heimat aufzunehmen ohne seine Wurzeln zu leugnen.“