For full details of the methodology adopted for the Language Rich Europe research please download a copy of Trends in Language Policies and Practices for Multilingualism in Europe.

Language varieties explored in the project

In the LRE project our ambition is to reflect the richness of languages present in European society and the extent to which all of these languages are included in policies and practices for multilingualism and plurilingualism.

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In its 2008 Communication, the EC refers to the many ’national, regional, minority and migrant’ languages spoken in Europe ’adding a facet to our common background’ and also ‘foreign languages’, used to refer principally to both European and non-European languages with a worldwide coverage.

In the context of the LRE project, we have used the above language types with the following definitions:

  • National languages: Official languages of a nation-state.
  • Foreign languages: Languages that are not learnt or used at home but learnt and taught at school or used as languages of wider communication in non-educational sectors.
  • Regional or minority languages: Languages that are traditionally used within a given territory of a state by nationals of that state who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the state’s population.
  • Immigrant languages: Languages spoken by immigrants and their descendants in the country of residence, originating from a wide range of (former) source countries.

For similar perspectives, we refer to McPake and Tinsley (2007). In this context, we want to express our awareness of the deliberate inclusion of immigrant languages as part of the European repertoire of languages, while at the same time in this first round of data collection on multilingual policies and practices for as yet little reference is made to sign languages.

Language domains addressed in the survey

Eight language domains are covered by the LRE survey. As the first domain, we include a meta-domain which looks at the availability of official national/regional documents and databases on language diversity. Given the key role of language learning in education, four domains focus on the main stages of publicly funded education from pre-school to university. In addition, three language domains outside and beyond education are addressed, in order to capture levels of multilingual services in society and business.

Distribution of questions across language domains

Nr Language domains N questions
1 Languages in official documents and databases 15
2 Languages in pre-primary education 34
3 Languages in primary education 58
4 Languages in secondary education 60
5 Languages in further and higher education 30
6 Languages in audiovisual media and press 14
7 Languages in public services and public spaces 31
8 Languages in business 18
Total of questions 260

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Domain 1 explores the availability of nationwide or regionwide official documents and databases on language diversity in each of the participating countries/regions. The availability of such documents and databases may contribute significantly to the awareness of multilingualism in a given country/region and can inform language education policy.

Domains 2–4 of the survey focus on education for non-adult learners provided by the state. The key distinction between organisation versus teachers is widely used in the European context (see, for example, Eurydice 2008). The responses in these sections are based on publicly available data as well as from official sources.

Responses in domains 5–8 are based on collected and reported data in the urban contexts of three cities per country or region (see Section 1.5 for details). Domain 5 explores language provision in a small sample of further (vocational) and higher (university) education institutions. Domain 6 focuses on languages in the audiovisual media and the press. Domain 7 concentrates on languages in public services and public spaces in terms of institutionalised language strategies, oral communication facilities and written communication facilities. The focus of domain 8, languages in business, is on company language strategies, internal communication strategies and external communication strategies. In each country/region a sample of 24 companies was aimed at.

Data collection and the three-cities approach

Responses in language domains 1-4 of the LRE survey are based on official/secondary data and reflect policies and common practices at the national or regional level. Domains 5-8, on the other hand, are based on the outcomes of primary data collection and data analysis.

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The collection of this primary data took place in three cities in each country or region prompted by the following considerations:

  • multilingualism is most prevalent in urban settings as newcomers tend to congregate there in search of work
  • cities reinforce national dynamics in responding to language diversity
  • large further and higher education institutions are present in cities (domain 5)
  • the international press, cinemas and television stations are most commonly found in cities (domain 6)
  • as a result, city administrators and urban planners need to create local policies on multilingualism (domain 7)
  • the headquarters of many businesses are located in cities (domain 8).

The selection of cities was identical for countries 1-14 in Table 4. Here the focus was on the two cities with the largest population size plus one city where the regional/minority language with the highest status, vitality and/or number of speakers in the country is spoken. Countries 15-18 presented a challenge as they do not fit the above model.

Country 15, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has three national languages: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. The cities chosen for primary data collection were Sarajevo, where Bosnian is mainly used, Banja-Luka, where Serbian is mainly used, and Mostar, where Bosnian and Croatian are mainly used.

Country 16, Switzerland, comprises 26 cantons and has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansch. LRE research in all domains took place in three sample cantons: one German-speaking (Zurich), one French-speaking (Geneva), and one Italian-speaking (Ticino).

Country 17, Spain, comprises 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous cities. LRE research has been conducted for domains 2-4 in three autonomous communities – Madrid, Andalusia, Valencia – and two ‘historic nationalities’ – Basque Country and Catalonia. Three profiles have been created: a combined profile for Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia and two separate profiles for Basque Country and Catalonia. Basque Country has two official languages: Basque and Spanish. Catalonia has three official languages: Catalan, Spanish and Aragonese.

Country 18, the UK, comprises four countries that have separate governments and education systems. For the education domains (2-4) data has been collected on policies and common practice in each country/region. For domains 5-8 the cities in Wales and Scotland were chosen on the basis of population size. In England, after London the city of Sheffield was chosen for practical reasons. It has not yet been possible to research a further city, but it is hoped that this data will be available soon. In Northern Ireland it has so far only been possible to include Belfast in the survey.

The selection of the three cities and the proposed regional/minority (R/M) languages to focus on were decided upon in advance in co-operation with all participating national or regional teams on the basis of municipal statistics for the first two cities and regional/minority language/group statistics for the third city. Table 4 gives an overview of the cities surveyed per country (minus Germany).

Table 4. Three-cities approach for all participating countries/regions

Nr Countries with one national language Largest city Second/Third largest city Additional city Dominant regional/ minority language in additional city
1 Austria Vienna Graz Klagenfurt Slovene
2 Bulgaria Sofia Plovdiv Shumen Turkish
3 Denmark Copenhagen Aarhus Aabenraa German
4 Estonia Tallinn Tartu Narva Russian
5 France Paris Marseille Corte Corsican
6 Greece Athens Thessaloniki Xanthi Turkish
7 Hungary Budapest Debrecen Pécs German
8 Italy Rome Milan Trieste Slovene
9 Lithuania Vilnius Kaunas Klaipeda Russian
10 Netherlands Amsterdam Rotterdam Leeuwarden* Frisian
11 Poland Warsaw Krakow Gdansk Kashubian
12 Portugal Lisbon Oporto Miranda do Douro* Mirandese
13 Romania Bucharest Iaşi Cluj Hungarian
14 Ukraine Kiev Kharkiv Lviv Russian
Other countries Largest city City in region 2 City in region 3 Official language(s) 
15 Bosnia & Herzegovina Sarajevo Banja-Luka Mostar Bosnian/Serbian/ Croatian
16 Switzerland Zürich Genève Lugano German/French/Italian
17 Spain
Basque Country
San Sebastian
18 UK:




N.-Ireland Belfast - - English

*Absence of university leading to absence of university-based data

National or regional profiles are based on primary data collection for the 23+22+22=67 cities referred to in Table 4. As can be derived from Table 4, most dominant regional/minority languages in the chosen additional cities have the status of national language in adjacent countries. The focus of primary data collection for language domains 5-8 in each of the 24 participating countries/regions is summarised as follows:

  • For language domain 5, the focus is on language provision in different types of adult education provided by the state. Two complementary sectors are addressed; language provision in vocational education for (young) adults aged 16-plus and language provision in academic/university education.
  • For language domain 6, the focus is on language provision in audiovisual media, including public radio and television broadcasting, the largest cinemas, and in the press at the largest train stations and city kiosks in the cities surveyed.
  • For language domain 7, the focus is on language provision in public services and public spaces at city level, more particularly on institutionalised language strategies, oral communication facilities and written information facilities at city (council) level in the cities surveyed.
  • For language domain 8, the focus is on four different business sectors – supermarkets, construction businesses, hotels and banks. Researchers were asked to collect samples distributed as evenly as possible across multinational/international (M/I), national (N), and regional or local (R/L) businesses. In practice, this ambition turned out to be difficult to realise across all countries/regions.

In Table 5, a summarising overview of language domains and targets for primary data collection per city (3x) is provided.

Domains and targets for primary data collection per city

Nr Language domain Targets per city (3x)
5 Languages in vocational and university education
  • Largest institution for vocational education and training (VET) with language provision
  • Largest public university
6 Languages in the media
  • Language provision in radio and TV programmes, at the cinema, as described in the best-selling newspaper
  • Language provision in press at the largest train station and city kiosk
7 Languages in public services and spaces
  • Institutionalised language strategies, oral communication facilities and written information facilities at the central city level
8 Languages in business
  • Small-/medium-sized and large multi-/international, national and regional/local supermarkets, building construction businesses, hotels and banks

Research methodology

Questionnaire construction

In terms of questionnaire construction, the following prerequisites for constructing questions were followed:

  • each question should yield rateable data
  • rateable data should be weighted, leading to differentiation of reported policies and practices
  • yes/no-questions where one of the answers would predictably lead to 100% scores should be avoided
  • the questions should be robust enough for repeated measurement over time.

Most commonly, each question had three response options and researchers had to select the option which was the closest to reality in terms of common policy or practice in their country/region. Each choice was given a score. The highest score for each question corresponds to the policy or practice which is most closely aligned with EU/CoE recommendations.


From a validity perspective our concerns at the overall questionnaire level were the following:

Internal validity

  • Is the LRE Questionnaire sufficiently comprehensive in its conceptual construct and scope and therefore fit for its aims?
  • Is the LRE Questionnaire sufficiently explicit and transparent in its formulation?
  • Is the LRE Questionnaire sufficiently practical as a tool for data collection in terms of intelligibility and administrative workload?

External validity

  • Is the LRE Questionnaire sufficiently valid in its linkage to European benchmarks that guide its scoring?

Cross-national comparability

  • Is the LRE Questionnaire sufficiently fair in representing the four key language varieties that are taken into account: national, foreign, regional/minority and immigrant languages?
  • Is the LRE Questionnaire based on equal questions across countries/regions?
  • Is the LRE Questionnaire based on equal scoring procedures across countries/regions?


The following procedure summarises the steps we took to design and pilot the LRE Questionnaire, and to collect and process the data:

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  • 2010 - Initial questions and scoring proposals for all multiple answer options were developed by Tilburg University, the British Council and the Migration Policy Group in Brussels. The business domain was developed by CILT in London, using the ELAN survey (2006) as the starting point, and then further refined by the French research team. Advice for the public services domain was given by the Metropolitan Police languages team and other London public service providers.
  • The draft version of the LRE Questionnaire was pre-tested in three pilot studies in Poland, Spain and the region of Catalonia in early 2011. The pilot studies were aimed at testing the content and construct validity of the LRE Questionnaire by taking into account variation in language policies and practices both between and within countries.
  • On the basis of the pilot outcomes, the LRE Questionnaire, the Field Manual for researchers, and the scoring procedures were further adapted and then scrutinised by the LRE Steering Group and external experts. The final LRE Questionnaire was sent out in autumn 2011 to all national and regional teams for data collection.
  • Different versions of the questionnaire were created for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Spain, Switzerland and the UK (see Table 4).
  • Researchers were sent a detailed Field Manual explaining the background to the project, and how data collection was to be conducted. In addition, there was a two-day face-to-face meeting to discuss the methodology, and e-mail exchanges and phone calls took place with each research team.
  • Once the national and regional teams had provided all answers to all questions, all the data obtained was peer-reviewed independently to ensure a double-checked and consistent interpretation.
  • Subsequently, all peer-reviewed data was processed, analysed and reviewed by the LRE team at Tilburg University.
  • Through the process, it became clear that some questions had been interpreted differently by different researchers, while others had not been fully understood. The process of clarifying these, standardising responses, and agreeing final interpretations was completed in early 2012. It was decided that some questions would not be scored due to unfeasibility of gathering the data. Data for questions on book collections in languages other than the national language in public libraries and bookshops proved impossible to collect in some countries. Questions on the languages required for undergraduate and postgraduate studies proved ambiguous, and have not been scored.
  • The results for each country/region were sent back to all researchers and a further opportunity for feedback was given. The results were presented initially at the whole domain level, but subsequently it has been decided to present them at the more detailed question level in order to capture countries/regions policies and practices in more detail.

Overview of EU and Council of Europe Documents

European actors in promoting multilingualism and plurilingualism

Linguistic diversity is a key property of Europe’s identity, and both the EU Institutions based in Brussels and the CoE based in Strasbourg have been active in promoting language learning and multilingualism/plurilingualism. The major language policy agencies in these two institutions are the Unit for Multilingualism Policy within the Directorate-General of Education and Culture in the European Commission and the Language Policy Division of the Directorate of Education in the Council of Europe. The work done by these agencies underpins the important resolutions, charters and conventions produced by the respective bodies.

A search for multilingualism publications on yields key documents in a range of languages organised under five headings: EU policy documents, information brochures, reports, studies, and surveys. On the CoE site,, publications are offered in the domains of policy development, instruments and standards, languages of school education, migrants, conference reports and selected studies.

The CoE makes a distinction between plurilingualism as a speaker’s competence (ability to use more than one language) and multilingualism as the presence of various languages in a given geographical area. The EU uses multilingualism for both (sometimes specifying ‘multilingualism of the individual’). Throughout the report both concepts multilingualism and plurilingualism are quoted.

Overview of EU and CoE documents used to develop the Language Rich Europe Questionnaire

European Union documents

Council of Europe documents

Council Resolutions/Conclusions

  • Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Year of Languages 2001 (2000)
  • Presidency Conclusions of the Barcelona European Council (2002)
  • Conclusions on multilingualism (May 2008)
  • Resolution on a European strategy for multilingualism (November 2008)
  • Conclusions on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training ET 2020 (2009)
  • Conclusions on language competencies to enhance mobility (2011)


  • European Cultural Convention (1954)
  • European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) (1992)
  • Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995)
  • European Social Charter (rev 1996)

European Parliament Resolutions

  • Resolution to promote linguistic diversity and language learning (2001)
  • Resolution on European regional and lesser-used languages (2003)
  • Resolution on multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment (2009)

Recommendations of the Committee of Ministers

  • Recommendation N° R (2005)3 concerning teaching neighbouring languages in border regions
  • Recommendation N° R (82) 18 concerning modern languages (1982)
  • Recommendation N° R (98) 6 concerning modern languages (1998)
  • Recommendation CM/Rec (2008) 7 on the use of the CEFR and the promotion of plurilingualism

Communications by the European Commission

  • Communication 2005: A new framework strategy for multilingualism
  • Communication 2008: Multilingualism: An asset for Europe and a shared commitment
  • Green Paper 2008: Migration and Mobility: Challenges and opportunities for EU education systems

Recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly

  • Recommendation 1383 (1998) on linguistic diversification
  • Recommendation 1539 (2001) on the European Year of Languages 2001
  • Recommendation 1598 (2003) on the protection of sign languages in the Member States of the Council of Europe
  • Recommendation 1740 (2006) on the place of mother tongue in school education

External reports

  • Final Report of the High Level Group on Multilingualism (2007)
  • Languages mean business: companies work better with languages, Business Forum for Multilingualism (2008)

External reports

  •  From linguistic diversity to plurilingual education: Guide for the development of language education policies in Europe: Beacco and Byram (2007)
  • Guide for the development and implementation of curricula for plurilingual and intercultural education, Beacco et al. (2010)

Tools for Teaching and Learning

  • Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) (2001)
  • European Language Portfolio (ELP) (2001)