7. PROMOTING LANGUAGE LEARNING AND LINGUISTIC
Commission Staff Working Paper: Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity Consultation.
|Document originated:||13 November 2002
|Deposited in Parliament:||25 November 2002
|Department:||Education and Skills
|Basis of consideration:||EM of 6 December 2002
|Previous Committee Report:||None
|To be discussed in Council:||Not applicable
|Committee's assessment:||Politically important
7.1 This consultation exercise is part of the process
of building upon the achievements of the European Year of Languages
(EYL) 2001. It has been produced in response to an invitation
to the Commission from the Education Council of 14 February 2002
to draw up proposals to promote language learning and linguistic
diversity in the EU.
7.2 The purpose of the document is to invite responses
to seven specific questions. On the basis of the responses, the
Commission will develop an Action Plan by July 2003.
7.3 The first six questions ask how the Commission can
best help Member States to:
- ensure that all citizens are able to communicate in at least
two languages in addition to their mother tongue;
- increase the range of languages taught;
- improve the quality and quantity of teacher training, and
monitor the effectiveness of language teaching;
- develop more easily comparable methods of testing language
- integrate support for regional, minority, migrant and sign
languages into education and training programmes; and
- create a more "language friendly" environment.
7.4 The final question asks what steps Member States
themselves should take in these areas.
7.5 The main part of the working paper creates a context
for these questions, covering all aspects of language learning
in a wide-ranging commentary. It points out that intercultural
communication will be a necessity in an enlarged EU with 500 million
citizens, as well as a key to world competitiveness. Although
many EU citizens are already multilingual, language competence
is not equally spread as a function either of age or of social
class. The range of languages is limited: 41% of Europeans speak
English as a foreign language; 19% speak French; 10% speak German;
7% speak Spanish and 3% speak Italian. No other language achieves
even 1%. Although the report acknowledges the advantages of using
English as a lingua franca, it also notes the limitations
inherent in concentrating on one foreign language only.
7.6 The working paper emphasises the key role of teachers
and the importance of teacher training. It also notes the significance
of higher educational institutions in promoting multilingualism.
It underlines the value of overseas visits for both teachers and
7.7 The document reports that language learning in primary
education is becoming more widespread. While this is welcome,
it needs teacher training and investment to support it. The practice
in some Member States of making foreign language learning optional
is noted with concern.
7.8 Beyond mainstream education, language learning in
the workplace is identified as important. The working paper also
notes the position of those with special needs. It makes a case
for familiarisation with the less widely spoken languages, and
touches on the special attention required by Europe's regional
and minority languages in order to keep them alive.
7.9 An annex lists existing education and training programmes
which support language learning.
The Government's view
7.10 The Minister of State for Lifelong Learning and
Higher Education (Margaret Hodge) points out that there are no
policy or financial implications as this is simply a consultation
document. Any Action Plan developed as a result of the consultation
exercise would only have to be acted upon if it was endorsed by
the Council in either Conclusions or a Resolution, either of which
would require unanimity. The Minister reminds us that the target
that all EU citizens should learn at least two languages as well
as their mother tongue was set at the Barcelona Spring Council.
7.11 We thank the Minister for her Explanatory Memorandum
which provides us with an excellent summary of the document. As
it says little about her view of the issues, however, we ask for
a copy of any government response to the consultation paper. We
clear the document.