Languages 2014 – 2025: are we set fair for the challenge?

 The real significance of Language Trends

Bernardette Holmes, Speak to the Future’s Campaign Director, comments on research published on 25 March, 2014.

Language is the keyThe publication of the 12th in the series of annual research exercises, Language Trends 2013-2014 carried out under the joint direction of CfBT and the British Council provides us with an up-to-date appraisal of language provision in English schools.  The benefit of this report is in its longevity.  It is the only survey which has collated annual data drawn from a sample of state maintained and independent secondary schools over this critical period in the development of language policy.

Read more

At risk of digital extinction: Europe’s smaller languages fight to survive

wordcloudNew language technologies present an important way in which we can enable smaller languages in the linguistically diverse digital age, helping them be heard around the world.

This threat of digital extinction for smaller languages will become even more acute as the internet – and the larger languages that it rode in on – extends into every aspect of our lives, dictating how we speak and think. Smartphones, tablets, mobile apps and social media all increase the reach of the digital universe, accompanying us from the second we wake up (and check the news and our email) to the last moment before we sleep (one final scroll through our Twitter feeds).

How can we reverse this trend for the European languages at risk? Read more 

Case Study: Taaltaske (‘Language Pack’) – Early Language Learning in Friesland

Language Rich Europe promotes the sharing of good practice in the area of multilingualism. On our website, you can read and submit your own case studies.

In this post, we focus on one from the Dutch province of Friesland, which is actively promoting early language learning.

Many recommend learning languages as early as possible – improved literacy skills, increased confidence, more effective cognitive skills and a broader cultural understanding are just a few of the benefits often mentioned. New research even suggests that we can begin learning languages before we are born.

In Friesland, the bilingual province of the Netherlands, they take early language learning seriously – issuing a language pack (Taaltaske) to all parents when they register a birth. The pack contains information on raising a bilingual child, a Frisian children’s book and CD with children’s songs.  As the case study on the Language Rich Europe website explains

Young/future Frisian parents in the Province of Fryslân are often not aware of the possibilities of raising their child bilingually. The Taaltaske is a way to explain to them how they can go about raising their child bilingually.

This early introduction to Frisian is supported by formal education, with the language being a compulsory subject in primary schools and many using it as the language of instruction.

Submit your own case study now!

Fourth international meeting of the EDiLiC community

The fourth international meeting of the EDiLiC community (EdiLiC stands for Education et Diversité Linguistique et Culturelle – Linguistic and Cultural Education and Diversity) took place from 16 to 18 July 2012 at the University of Aveiro, Portugal. Since this organisation shares many of the aims of Language Rich Europe, it appropriately included a workshop, presented by Lachlan Mackenzie (ILTEC), about our project and its preliminary results. Lachlan blogs about the conference for LRE:

The conference reflected its commitment to multilingualism by being held in three languages, Portuguese, French and English, without simultaneous interpretation. To avoid any communication difficulties, speakers were required to talk in different languages and to use powerpoints in at least one language other than that used for oral presentation. A ‘good practice’ for sure!

The workshop covered the overall goals of Language Rich Europe, the results achieved so far and the findings for Portugal. The participants came from different countries and backgrounds. Some were primarily concerned with doing academic research into the performance and difficulties of language learners. Others were working on alleviating the linguistic and cultural problems faced by immigrants and other users of minority languages in societies dominated by national languages.

It became clear that Language Rich Europe and its network could provide the members of EDiLiC with ways of joining forces and exchanging experiences with colleagues across our continent. They were very interested in our network as a platform on which to meet, confront and influence those who take the decisions about the language policies that affect our schools, workplaces and public services.

A point that came up very forcefully in the workshop concerned measures for increasing plurilingualism in Europe by fostering mobility for students, teachers and others. In countries with severe economic difficulties like Portugal, insufficient funds are currently available to support mobility to France, the UK and Germany, and the number of candidates for study abroad is falling. The suggestion was made to consider other countries, especially those of Central and Eastern Europe, where living expenses are lower and there are underused opportunities for language-learning. However, it was also felt that the recommended emphasis on mobility can have the effect of actually reinforcing privilege in society, since it is the few students who have the means to travel that stand to gain further from study abroad.

The notion of plurilingualism was welcomed by the workshop as relevant to our schools. Full acceptance of this notion will imply different ways of teaching and learning and will create new relationships between schools and the communities they serve. The point was made that the academic research carried out in many centres is coming up with conclusions that support the lines of intervention recommended by the various European authorities and that a network such as Language Rich Europe can provide a basis for the research findings to become reality. The workshop was a valid starting-point for future collaboration between researchers and policy-makers.

Spotlight on Spain – Spain and Plurilingualism

In the first of a two part series, Spotlight on Spain, Language Rich Europe partner, Marta Genis from the Universidad Nebrija takes us through the plurilingual context in Spain and the status of its various languages in each region.

The richness of the different linguistic modalities of Spain is a cultural heritage which shall be specially respected and protected

So says the 1978 Spanish Constitution, in its Preliminary Title, section 3 (3) , therefore including the idea of a multilingual nation, a state with different linguistic modalities and a common language, Castillian Spanish, that all of us have the “duty to know and the right to use”. This makes a really diverse, rich and complex country that we are fortunate to live in, being among the few countries that have these assets. All public institutions, therefore, have the duty to raise awareness, defend and promote this rich reality.

As a multilingual country, Spain has different situations. Most communities are monolingual. Extremadura, Andalucía, Castilla la Mancha, Castilla-León, la Rioja, Madrid, Canarias and Cantabria are monolingual communities with Castillian, known around the world as Spanish, as their mother tongue.

Another situation is that of monolingual communities with non official languages, such as Asturias where Bable is widely spoken and Aragón where there are several Fablas. With regards to Aragón, most people speak Spanish, but there is a language called Altoaragonés, Fabla aragonesa or Patués, located mainly in Huesca and the north of Zaragoza. This romance language is closely related to Catalan, Castillian and Gascon or Occitan, spoken in the south of France. Several dialects developed from this main branch of the Fabla Aragonesa:  in the eastern part of the province, ribagorzano, fobano, chistabino; in the western part, ansotano and cheso; in the centre, tensino, bergotés and belsetán; in the south, there is another variety which corresponds to the Somontano region. The most widespread is the Patués, with more or less 30,000 speakers according to the Consello d’a Fabla Aragonesa.

There are also bilingual communities, such as Cataluña,Valencia, Islas Baleares, Galicia and Euskadi where plurilingualism is promoted at official level.  

Catalan, an official language in the whole state, is spoken in Cataluña, Valencia and Islas Baleares. Catalan is not only spoken in Catalonia but also in other regions of Spain – La Franja de Ponent (Aragón), the Islas Baleares, the Comunidad Valenciana and El Carxe in Murcia. It is also spoken in the south of France (Catalunya del Nord), and in Alghero (Sardinia, Italy) and it is the official language of Andorra. Scholars distinguish two main groups of dialectal varieties: Western Catalan and Eastern Catalan. This simple division is based mainly on the presence or absence of the schwa vowel.  Other scholars distinguish up to twelve varieties of Catalan, but most frequently six varieties are recognized: Northern Catalan, Central Catalan, Balearic, Northwestern Catalan, Valencian and Algherese.

Galego is the language spoken in Galicia, where it is official along with Castellano. It is also spoken in border areas of Castilla-León and Portugal. Galego is very similar to Portuguese, as they both descend from Galician-Portuguese, a single Latin-derived  language. It is also spoken in a several places around the world due to the region historical immigration circumstances. Barcelona, Zurich, Montevideo and Buenos Aires are good examples of these Galician communities that use Gallego as their vehicular language.

The language called Euskera, Vascuence or Vizcaíno is the only surviving pre-indo-european language in Europe. It is spoken in the Comunidad Autónoma del País Vasco, in the Comunidad Foral de Navarra and in the South-East of France (Pirineos Atlánticos). The Euskera or Euskara has the following dialects: Western dialect, called Bizkaiera or Mendebaldekoa; the Central dialect, Gipuzkera or Ertaldekoa; Nafarrera, spoken in the North of Navarra and the Northeast of Guipuzcoa; the Eastern Navarrese or Ekialdeko Nafarrera; the Labourdin-Navarrese or Nafar-Lapurtera, spoken in Labourd, lower Navarra and part of Soule (France); and Souletin or Zuberera spoken in the territory of Soule and in the canton of Olorón (Bearn, Gascony).

This is the situation of Spain as regards to the tapestry of the languages spoken in its territory. It is necessary to have this background information in order to be able to understand the different types of school in the Spanish educational system and the different types of approaches adopted as regards to vernacular and foreign languages.

Next week Marta Genis will introduce us to the status of first and foreign languages within the Spanish Education system.


Some 50 million EU citizens, 10% of the EU population, speak a regional or minority language

Some of my recent posts (Reindeer racing in Sápmi, Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona Duit, etc.) have been triggered by news items I’ve spotted in the Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity’s  website. The NPLD is a pan-European network which covers regional, minority, indigenous, cross-border and smaller national languages to promote linguistic diversity in the context of a multilingualEurope.  Some 50 million EU citizens, 10% of the EU population, speak a regional or minority language.

The network currently includes representatives from the following languages: Finnish, Basque, Catalan, Breton, Occitan, Cornish, Welsh, Swedish, Lithuanian, Irish Gaelic, Frisian, Estonian, Sami, Corsican, Galician, Meänkieli and Karelian.

Their aim is to facilitate the sharing of existing best practice and the development of new and innovative ideas across the field of language planning in education, the home, the workplace, legislation and the media in the contexts of constitutional, regional and smaller state languages.

NPLD website

According to the network: “as language planners we are aware that many of the issues facing these linguistic communities will be very similar and that sharing good practice is a must if these languages are to survive and flourish.” 

Further information can be found on the NPLD website ( which includes news stories concerning the network and European multilingualism, which brings me back to where I started.