EAEA News 2008-04-25
Public Hearing on Multilingualism
Brussels, 15 April 2008
The European Commission hosted a public hearing on the place and role of languages within the EU and brought together stakeholders from the academic and cultural sectors as well as representatives of EU institutions. Language policy is a sensitive subject at EU level because amongst other things the EU institutions' translation and interpreting services alone absorb €1.1bn per year, which is 1% of the EU budget.
This event was a proceeding of a public consultation on multilingualism, which was carried out online between September and November 2007. Individuals, businesses, expert organisations and policy makers we asked about their views related to multilingualism. There was a high response to the consultation with nearly 2,500 contributions from 58 countries using all 23 official languages.
The majority of the respondents to the online survey were in agreement that:
• The linguistic diversity of the EU is an asset to be safeguarded
• The media should promote an intercultural society model, focusing on tolerance, not on confrontation
• The costs related to working in 23 official languages are worth paying
The debate at the public hearing centered as well on a proposal presented in January by a High Level Group for a 'personal adoptive language´. The personal adoptive language (PAL) would be a second mother tongue, learned intensively and spoken and written fluently rather than a foreign language. PAL is chosen by the person based on individual choice and the personal motivation.
It is hoped that the PAL proposal achieves that bilateral relations between EU peoples will eventually take place in the two languages of those involved rather than a third language. It was suggested that EU-funded study grants could be introduced to allow people to study PALs abroad and generate interest in language-learning among individuals. In general the idea of a personal adoptive language was very welcomed from the particpants of the hearning.
However, while the Commission made a lot of encouraging points, many participants expressed their concerns about the business driven model to promote language learning. This may not increase and promote linguistic diversity but it contrary encourages people to learn global languages such as English, French and Mandarin to the disadvantage of other languages. As a result the fear was expressed, that there would always be too much focus on the big languages. It was pointed out that despite the EU treaties ambitious statements on linguistic equality, the situation is very different in practice as for example the Europa website shows strong bias towards English and French.
Therefore many participants were perturbed about some of Europe´s lesser-used languages, and that there needs to be EU support for those languages that need the most help. Furthermore why should the EU support the learning of huge global languages such as Mandarin or Arabic when Europe´s own "smaller" languages needed more support?
On the other hand it was questioned by some partners whether people would actually need the languages they have learned in practice and adviced that if workers were going to take up the idea of PAL then trade unions would need to be made aware of it first.
The outcomes of the discussions will provide for a new Commission strategy on multilingualism, which will be adopted in September 2008. The purpose of this Communication will be to discuss and define the role of languages in a multilingual Europe.
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