Celebrated on 26 September, the European Day of Languages (EDL) is a means of promoting awareness among the general public of the importance of language learning and protecting the linguistic heritage.

As such, the EDL is an integral part of the Language Policy Programme, even though the greater part of the programme is usually directed at national education authorities and practitioners in this field. The idea of organising a campaign to convince the general public of the importance of learning more languages was born at the 1997 conference on Language learning for a new Europe, which, amongst other things, launched the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR) and the concept of plurilingualism.

The first European Day of Languages took place on 26 September 2001 and was a flagship event of the European Year of Languages 2001 campaign organised jointly with the European Union. Millions of people in 45 member states took part. It was such a success that in order to satisfy the expectations of many partners, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided, in late 2001, to make this day an annual event to be celebrated on 26 September.

Everybody deserves the chance to benefit from the cultural and economic advantages language skills can bring. Learning languages also helps to develop tolerance and understanding between people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds”, declared the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the European Commissioner for Education and Culture in a joint statement at the launch of the European Year of Languages. The importance of plurilingualism has been highlighted by numerous awareness-raising initiatives, and by documents such as The celebration of linguistic diversity.

The objectives of the European Day of Languages are similar to those of the 2001 campaign:

  • Celebrating linguistic diversity in Europe, the plurilingualism of its citizens and lifelong language learning;
  • Improving awareness of Europe’s linguistic heritage and promoting its rich diversity by encouraging openness to different languages and cultures;
  • Motivating European citizens to develop plurilingualism (the ability to use different languages, to whatever standard) to achieve a degree of proficiency in a number of languages, including those less widely used or taught;
  • Encouraging and supporting lifelong language learning for personal development.

Co-ordinated in the Council of Europe by the Language Policy Programme and the European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML), the European Day of Languages has had a growing impact over the years, particularly in schools.

The ECML has set up a website with multiple resources (activities, games, database of events, etc.) available in 37 languages thanks to the contribution of EDL “national relay persons”.