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Call to action for European governments to improve language policies to ensure economic competitiveness and build more inclusive societies

Brussels, 5 March 2013

The Language Rich Europe (LRE) consortium, co-funded by the European Commission and the British Council, calls on European institutions and member state governments to initiate new policies to support immigrant language teaching, revise trilingual learning, and use the particular position of English to promote and support multi/plurilingualism. This would help to develop a truly multilingual Europe and in turn ensure economic competitiveness while building more inclusive societies.

Language Rich Europe, a networking project involving 30 partners from across Europe to discuss and develop better policies and practices for multilingualism, last year published a comprehensive report (Language Rich Europe: Trends in Policies and Practices for Multilingualism in Europe) of Europe’s linguistic landscape to create a map of Europe’s contemporary language trends and policies. This research and subsequent consultation has led to European Recommendations being released today that offer unique insights into language policies and best practices within the educational, business, public service and media sectors across Europe.

The rise of English and a growing mix of immigrant languages have redrawn Europe's linguistic map in recent decades. The ability to communicate in other languages is essential if Europeans are to develop a broader international outlook and enhance their employment prospects. New policies for language training are needed to adapt to increasing mobility, migration and the recent economic downturn.

Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, stated, “The European Commission is committed to a multilingualism policy which recognises the importance of linguistic diversity and supports language learning, which is essential for economic competitiveness and inclusive societies. In particular, I welcome the fact that the 'Language Rich Europe' report calls for increased mobility and training of language teachers. Our new Erasmus for All programme will provide additional funding for this in future.”

“Good knowledge of a variety of languages can bring enormous economic and social benefits to countries, regions and communities. Multilingualism plays a vital role in creating understanding between people from different cultures - and building the kind of trust that underpins any kind of relationship,” said Rosemary Hilhorst, Regional Director EU, British Council. 

Key findings & recommendations: 

  • English is now the most widely-chosen second language in Europe’s schools, especially in higher education studies. A new model for developing and preserving other languages is needed to promote diversity among languages used and spoken by Europeans.
  • The European Commission’s trilingual formula of ‘mother tongue plus two’ should be updated and further developed. For many citizens ‘mother tongue’ is no longer the same as the national language. The particular position of English also means that in practice most citizens will learn English plus one, so it is rarely any ‘two’. A useful development of the formula could include the clear articulation of a linguistic profile.
  • The particular position of English in Europe should be explicitly acknowledged, in order to propose a new model for the co-existence of languages in Europe. This would have implications for policy formulations and would encourage more research and development work on the ways in which the position of English could be used to promote and support multi/plurilingualism rather than to undermine it. This would also mean that European funding streams, for example, the successor to the Lifelong Learning Programme, would prioritise support for languages other than English.
  • Immigrant languages have significantly changed the linguistic landscape in Europe. To develop more inclusive societies, immigrant languages should be explicitly recognised at European level. Funds should be allocated at the national and European levels to support language teaching from pre-primary to university education that reflects the diversity of student populations.
  • Existing barriers to the employment of teachers from other member states should be removed. Teachers should be enabled and encouraged to do training abroad to improve the level of achievement in language learning. For example, “Erasmus for teachers” should be established.
  • When creating audio-visual materials, subtitling – not dubbing – should be the default option for organisations on the European level. The comparative data demonstrate a strong positive correlation between subtitling and language competency.
  • We should reassess the ways in which multilingualism increases trade and profitability. Research is needed into how successful companies actually engage in successful business exchanges across languages and cultures from an economic and sociological perspective rather than with a solely linguistic bias to produce case studies and practical guidance.

The consortium partners are now developing specific recommendations to be implemented by regions and local governments in EU member states, which will be part of the completion of the Language Rich Europe project. 

For more information, contact David Sorrentino on tel: +32 (0) 486 142 945 or .

Language Rich Europe launches consultation to improve language learning and support multilingualism

Release of a new study kicks off initiative to understand and improve language policies and practices

May 2012 – The Language Rich Europe consortium has released the initial draft of a research publication which analyses trends in language policies and practices in 24 countries and regions in Europe. The survey covers languages in education, the media, cities and business. 

Over the next 9 months, newly-formed networks of language stakeholders in each country will come together in a series of over 80 workshops to discuss the findings and develop recommendations at regional, national and European levels.  These will be presented to policy makers in March 2013 in Brussels.

The Language Rich Europe project is co-funded by the European Commission and managed by the British Council.  The research was carried out by Tilburg University’s Babylon Centre for Studies of the Multicultural Society, working with partner institutions and experts in participating countries.

 Issues to be explored through the project inclu

  • How do we address the apparent shortage of language teachers?  
  • How can we motivate people to learn languages at all stages of their lives?
  • How do we ensure that a broad range of languages is offered at school? 
  • How can we teach other languages through subjects such as Geography and History? 
  • How can cities ensure that they are meeting the language needs of their citizens and visitors? 
  • How can companies get more involved in language education?

Key findings in the study include:

  • There is a shortage of language teachers in some countries/regions, and special recruitment campaigns are in place 
  • While traditional modern foreign languages such as English, French, German and Spanish are commonly offered in primary and secondary education, very few countries offer students the opportunity to learn languages from outside Europe
  • Learning languages through subjects such as Geography and History is becoming more widespread, but is far from common practice Of the companies surveyed, 83% use language skills as a factor in recruitment. However, 70% do not keep a record of staff language skills
  • Two-thirds of the cities surveyed report that they are able to offer a number of public services in three or more languages while 37% make it a policy to include language skills in staff job descriptions and 29% provide language training to staff.  The 5 cities (out of 63) with the most developed language policies according to the survey are Barcelona, Krakow, London, Milan and Vienna

Martin Hope, LRE Project Director, said:  

“Through Language Rich Europe we aim to promote greater cooperation between policy makers and practitioners in Europe…to ensure that languages and cultural exchange continue to be promoted and encouraged at school, university and in broader society. This is essential if Europeans of all ages are to develop a broader international outlook, and if Europe as a whole is to position itself successfully to do business with the world’s emerging economic powers in the 21st century.”  

If you have any questions or to arrange an interview, please contact our team member from your local area or our LRE Communications Manager, David Sorrentino on +32 (0) 2 554 04654