Select Committee on European Scrutiny Sixth Report




SEC(02) 1234

Commission Staff Working Paper: Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity — Consultation.

Legal base:
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
Committee's decision:Cleared


  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.

The document

  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 skill;

  • 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 students.

  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.

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