What role does the EU play in promoting languages?

The European Commission is very keen to promote language learning and linguistic diversity across Europe so as to improve basic language skills.

It is working with national governments to meet an ambitious goal: enabling citizens to communicate in 2 languages other than their mother tongue. This "Barcelona objective" was agreed in 2002 by the EU's heads of state and government. 

The 2008 Communication "Multilingualism - an asset for Europe and a shared commitment" outlines the Commission's activities in this area. Priorities include:

  • helping EU countries develop new educational tools to ensure that school-leavers have better language skills
  • gathering data to monitor progress in language teaching and learning - to encourage mastery of more than one language as a way of improving job prospects and enabling people to move around within the EU
  • rewarding innovation in the language teaching and learning

Why is it needed?

The European Union's aspiration to be united in diversity underpins the whole European project. The harmonious co-existence of many languages in Europe embodies this. Languages can build bridges between people, giving us access to other countries and cultures, and enabling us to understand each other better.

Foreign language skills play an increasingly important in making young people more employable and equipping them for working abroad. They are also a factor in competitiveness; poor language skills cause many companies to lose contracts and hamper workers who might want to seek employment in countries other than their own.

Yet, too many Europeans still leave school without a working knowledge of a second language - reason enough to make language teaching and learning more efficient.

What is being done?

The European Commission responds to these needs by:

It supports these activities by:

  • working together with the Council of Europe and its European Centre of Modern Languages, whose main focus is innovation in language teaching
  • cooperating with the European institutions' language service providers, especially the Commission's Translation and Interpretation departments, to promote education and training for linguists
  • awarding the European Language Label to encourage new language teaching techniques

Finally, the Erasmus+ programme offers new opportunities for young people to hone their language skills by engaging in learning and training abroad".