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A mosaic pattern
The words of others: from barriers to places of encounter
Europe’s language mosaic is a cultural, social, and political challenge for all Europeans. The data emerged during the press conference promoted by EUNIC (European National Institutions for Culture) titled: “Europe-Italy: the challenge of multilingualism”, held on March 12 in Rome, at the Italian seat of the European Commission. The speakers were Susanne Hoehn, coordinator of Rome’s EUNIC network, Gian Maria Fara, president of Eurispes (Institute for political, economic and social studies), Franco Antonelli, Director of Rome’s public libraries institute, and Raphael Gallus, from the European Commission. “While on the one hand – states an abstract on the meeting – European citizens are granted the fundamental right to use their mother tongue, on the other, being fluent also in other languages provides a vast array of opportunities, opening up more horizons; it leads citizens to open up to Europe. And it thus steps up European cohesion and integration”.
Multilingualism: a resource. Language diversity is “a resource for Europe. It’s a common patrimony”. On these grounds the Commission decided to promote measures for the enhancement of multilingualism, in compliance with the guidelines contained in a dedicated Communication adopted in 2010 (Communication Com 2008 of 18 September 2008). Owing to recent enlargements, the EU recognizes 23 official languages (2007), conveyed in three alphabets. However, as many as 60 regional and minority languages are spoken across Europe.
Building “bridges” and “opportunities”. On the basis of the EU general principle of “unity in diversity”, specific policies are developed for the harmonious coexistence of its various languages, thereby promoting a “positive multilingualism”. Protecting and teaching languages can “act as a bridge towards other peoples, providing access to other countries and cultures, encouraging mutual understanding, promoting citizens’ opportunities, triggering job opportunities, along with access to services and citizens’ rights, and stepping up solidarity as a result of greater intercultural dialogue and social cohesion”.
European programs. Work first of all, “learning more languages provides a crucial contribution to the elimination of barriers and to the mobility of students, trainees, workers and young entrepreneurs, thereby boosting job opportunities and triggering development”. Learning one or more foreign language “opens new horizons of knowledge”. Reaching this objective requires qualified teaching staff, teachers’ and the students’ mobility, efficient learning methodologies, cultural partnerships and school twinnings. The new language, information and communication technologies constitute another major area of action of the EU. These, linked to translation services, are “critical to language learning and the promotion of intercultural dialogue”. Ultimately, multilingualism also involves major cooperation projects with EU citizens and extra-European situations, linked to migration flows (at least 175 nationalities are present within EU borders, according to Eurostat), and to ever closer relations between the EU and the so-called third Countries, with which the EU has promoted numerous and varied forms of cooperation.
Extending the number of spoken languages. “Teaching and learning languages” is a primary commitment of the EU, along with that of “increasing” the number of spoken languages. The purpose being that of “creating the conditions for European citizens to communicate in their mother tongue as well as in two more languages”. Another priority is to promote and protect some 40 million European citizens who regularly speak so-called regional and minority idioms, passed down by one generation to the next.
The language industry. The 2008 Business Forum for Multilingualism highlighted the economic advantages of language learning especially for small and medium enterprises as well as the specific contribution of translation services, interpretation, professional language courses for selected areas of activity. The European language “indicator” is a tool provided for in the project Language rich Europe, that will enable to assess the efficacy of policies and measures for the promotion of the knowledge of languages in various environments – work, school, business –to establish educational grounds and common services. Since 2001 the Council of Europe and the European Union jointly celebrate September 26 as a day devoted to boosting citizens’ interest for languages inside and outside the school environment. It’s the initiative of the European Day of Languages (EDL) which, promoted by the Council of Europe, involves 47 member States, a field of action that is much larger than that of the Community.