Have you seen our European Recommendations? Call to action!


The Language Rich Europe (LRE) consortium called on European institutions and member state governments to initiate new policies to support immigrant language teaching, revise trilingual learning, and use the particular position of English to promote and support multi/plurilingualism. This would help to develop a truly multilingual Europe and in turn ensure economic competitiveness while building more inclusive societies.

European Recommendations were presented in Brussels this week at the EESC during the LRE final conference. There was an institutional response from the European Commission, European Parliament and the Council of Europe.

Key findings & recommendations:

  • English is now the most widely-chosen second language in Europe’s schools, especially in higher education studies. A new model for developing and preserving other languages is needed to promote diversity among languages used and spoken by Europeans.
  • The European Commission’s trilingual formula of ‘mother tongue plus two’ should be updated and further developed. For many citizens ‘mother tongue’ is no longer the same as the national language. The particular position of English also means that in practice most citizens will learn English plus one, so it is rarely any ‘two’. A useful development of the formula could include the clear articulation of a linguistic profile.
  • The particular position of English in Europe should be explicitly acknowledged, in order to propose a new model for the co-existence of languages in Europe. This would have implications for policy formulations and would encourage more research and development work on the ways in which the position of English could be used to promote and support multi/plurilingualism rather than to undermine it. This would also mean that European funding streams, for example, the successor to the Lifelong Learning Programme, would prioritise support for languages other than English.
  • Immigrant languages have significantly changed the linguistic landscape in Europe. To develop more inclusive societies, immigrant languages should be explicitly recognised at European level. Funds should be allocated at the national and European levels to support language teaching from pre-primary to university education that reflects the diversity of student populations.
  • Existing barriers to the employment of teachers from other member states should be removed. Teachers should be enabled and encouraged to do training abroad to improve the level of achievement in language learning. For example, “Erasmus for teachers” should be established.
  • When creating audio-visual materials, subtitling – not dubbing – should be the default option for organisations on the European level. The comparative data demonstrate a strong positive correlation between subtitling and language competency.
  • We should reassess the ways in which multilingualism increases trade and profitability. Research is needed into how successful companies actually engage in successful business exchanges across languages and cultures from an economic and sociological perspective rather than with a solely linguistic bias to produce case studies and practical guidance.

Lid King, director of the Languages Company, said whilst presenting our Recommendations: “English is perceived as the language people should learn and are learning. That used to be the elephant in the room. Now we can see that elephant.” He said policymakers needed to recognise the “particular position” of English but that “more work needs to be done on how English can be used to support multilingualism.” He called on a strategy of subtitling as opposed to dubbing films, televisions programmes and conferences.

Faced with growing divisions amongst member states during the crisis, the EU needed to go in a positive direction towards celebrating diversity rather than being defensive and falling into ‘linguistic protectionism’, King said. He added that multilingualism could “calm tensions”, both amongst Europeans from different member states and non-EU immigrants.

You can read Androulla Vassilliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, full response to the Recommendations .DSC_0083.

Government decisions and long-lasting effects

Today we have a guest post from Vilma Bačkiūtė. Vilma is Partnerships and Projects Manager for British Council Lithuania.

To quote professor Ted Cantle, “This is a new era of mass migration, of visible communities and an era of super-diversity”.

He also points out that 300 languages are spoken in London.  For comparison, about 20 languages are spoken in Vilnius. According to statistics (2010) the largest groups of immigrants to Lithuania come from the UK, Russia, the USA, Belarus, Germany, Spain, and Norway.

A very small percentage of immigrants and ethnic minorities in Lithuania do not imply fewer tensions in the political arena. Official governmental decisions already have linguistic, political and social consequences which put social cohesiveness at risk. For example, because of inflexibility and stubbornness (or lack of competence?) of politicians, Lithuania will be spending a lot of money on lawyers trying to defend its position on the “bizarre spelling row between Poland and Lithuania”.

Of course, one must consider the historical background to contextualise and understand language policy issues in Lithuania. As well as in Latvia and Estonia.

The existing policies and language laws are similar in the three Baltic countries. They enhance the position of the official languages, which is desirable. But it is equally desirable that they are reviewed in the light of this new era of multicultural and multilingual societies. As a report on multilingualism in Lithuanian cities shows, language profiles in Lithuanian households also change.

No doubt, there are countries and cities that can share their “wisdom on managing diversity” with the Baltic countries. But the Baltic states also have a lot to contribute to our overall understandings of language policy and its complexities. Here is a letter by D.M.Helmeste (USA) to the Baltic Times editor to start considerations.