Being multilingual

European Day of Languages 2013


Linguistic diversity is a tool for achieving greater intercultural understanding and a key element in the rich cultural heritage of our continent.

Today,  throughout Europe we celebrate the European Day of Languages.

In 2001, the Council of Europe  established to celebrate an European Day of Languages every 26th September. The aim is to emphasise the value of language learning and to raise the awareness of the European linguistic diversity. We count about 225 indigenous languages – excluding the dialects – in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe.

In Europe, the most spoken languages are, by number of mother tongue speakers: Russian, German, English, French and Italian. In many parts of Europe plurilingualism is the norm. This is the case for Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Hungary, Ireland, Italy,  Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Carpathian Ruthenia (Ukraine) and the United Kingdom. Several of these countries are officially plurilingual, others have a number of traditionally spoken minority or regional languages. – The 50 states parties to the European Cultural Convention have 41 official or national languages and many accord special status to other languages.

The idea behind the European Day of Languages is to encourage language learning from an early stage on and to emphasise that it is a life long process. Children and adults need to be constantly encouraged and motivated to extend and diversify their language skills and levels.

Speaking more than one language gives us insight into the people, culture and traditions of other countries. Instead of being dependent on the linguistic competence and godwill of others, we not only acquire a usefull skill, but learning another language “reflects an attitude of respect for the identity and culture of others and tolerance of diversity” (cfr. Neil Madden).

On the official homepage of the European Day of Languages you can learn some interesting “language fun and facts“, do a “Language Quiz“, find some “Idioms of the world” (where you can participate in adding some translations in the languages you know at the bottom of the page!), have some fun with the “tongue twisters“, learn about “sign languages” and find some useful teaching materials.

Have a look at this site too, to exercice a few expressions in several languages. – Enjoy!

And here is a short film about the European Day of Languages at the British School of the Netherlands:

This is a later addition:

If you are looking for free online language learning resources – this time for Estonian, Finnish, Lithuanian, Polish and Portuguese – please check out this site. It is funded through the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme.

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21 replies »

  1. Ladyofthecakes: I can only tell that the British School in the Netherlands here in The Hague organises the EDL every year (I don’t know why they had to celebrate it on Monday already…). – But I see your point here…

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    • Well, not all the schools who celebrate the EDL do start teaching foreign languages at reception age. At my kid’s school they start with Dutch lessons early, but it’s not part of the official curriculum… and the “serious” lessons start when kids are 11 and older. Way too late if you ask me 😉 So che provvedere l’input linguistico necessario per i nostri bambini all’estero è un’impresa non facile. Quanto tempo passate all’estero di solito? Per chi vive all’estero ci sono gruppi d’incontro per bimbi (e genitori) in molte città e tante famiglie si organizzano per dare ai loro figli l’opportunità di “immersione totale” in un ambiente monolingue. – Grazie per il commento 😉 Mi farebbe piacere se mi potessi raccontare di più della tua famiglia, dei tuoi figli etc. – A presto! Ute

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  2. Love Madden’s quote. Another I love, that parallels this notion, is from Mary Catherine Bateson, daughter of legendary cultural anthropologist, Margaret Meade. Bateson said:

    “An encounter with other cultures can lead to openness only if one suspends the assumption of superiority –less of an explorer or colonizer, but of an adopted child.”

    Childlike openness and humility are vital to the fluid acquisition of any language. The sooner one is shorn of the notion of cultural preeminence, the sooner one is open to absorbing the languages (spoken and unspoken) of any person or culture. Pride keeps us locked up and fearful.

    Language, then, can be an act of supreme love.

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    • Thank you, Melissa, for your brilliant input. I love Mary Catherin Bateson’s quote! People needs to stay open and not feel superior towards the other cultures and languages. Especially adults need to maintain their openness and humility, because, as you say, their “pride locks them up, makes them fearful”. And if we are, as parents, too proud or prejudiced against all that’s different our children will be too…
      The European Day of Languages shouldn’t be celebrated only one day per year, but it should be lived every day by adults and children (especially parents and teachers!).

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    • Olga, Poland is listed among the countries where plurilingualism occurs, because there are 20 bilingual communes in Poland (mostly Polish-German) who speak forms of the German language. Unfortunately, historic languages in the country like Prussian, Kashubian, Silesian and Yiddish of the Polish Jewish community are nearly extincted…

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  3. Thanks for the reminder that today is European Languages day – I really should know this sort of thing given that I have taught languages for just over a decade! I love all the facts etc. at the European Day of Languages site that you linked to and really want to have a go at the quiz!

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