Education and Languages, Language Policy

Council of Europe language education policy 

The maintenance and development of linguistic and cultural diversity is a Council of Europe aim, enshrined in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages on Minority languages in a typically cautious fashion. There has been some backlash recently against societal multiculturalism as divisive, reinforcing separatism and blocking the integration of immigrants and encouraging ghetto formation. Here the concepts of plurilingualism and pluriculturalism are of real value, since they take a holistic view of linguistic and cultural competence, to which all linguistic and cultural experience contribute.

Both at individual and societal levels the concept is dynamic, since the components from the experience of different language and cultures interpenetrate and interact, forming something new, enriched and in continual development. This approach meets better the realities of globalisation than various forms of purism which regard each language and culture as a separate entity, to be preserved and protected against the threat offered by alien forces.

The Council of Europe’s activities to promote linguistic diversity and language learning in the field of education are carried out within the framework of article 2 of the European Cultural Convention, which commits the states party to the Convention to promote the reciprocal teaching and learning of their languages.

Each Contracting Party shall, insofar as may be possible:
a. encourage the study by its own nationals of the languages, history and civilisation of the other Contracting Parties and grant facilities to those Parties to promote such studies in its territory,
b. endeavour to promote the study of its languages, history and civilisation in the territory of the other Contracting Parties and grant facilities to the nationals of those Parties to pursue such studies in its territory.
In the spirit of this article the Council of Europe’s work in the area of language education policy has developed over five decades in response to the changing needs and priorities of member states. The Council promotes policies which strengthen linguistic diversity and language rights, deepen mutual understanding, consolidate democratic citizenship and sustain social cohesion.

Council of Europe language education policies aim to promote:
- PLURILINGUALISM: all are entitled to develop a degree of communicative ability in a number of languages over their lifetime in accordance with their needs
- LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY: Europe is multilingual and all its languages are equally valuable modes of communication and expressions of identity; the right to use and to learn one’s language(s) is protected in Council of Europe Conventions
- MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING: the opportunity to learn other languages is an essential condition for intercultural communication and acceptance of cultural differences
- DEMOCRATIC CITIZENSHIP: participation in democratic and social processes in multilingual societies is facilitated by the plurilingual competence of individuals
- SOCIAL COHESION: equality of opportunity for personal development, education, employment, mobility, access to information and cultural enrichment depends on access to language learning throughout life

Policies for plurilingualism

The emphasis from an early stage in Council of Europe projects on successful communication skills, motivated by increasing opportunities for interaction and mobility in Europe, remains important, but globalisation and internationalisation pose new challenges to social cohesion and integration. Language skills remain essential if individuals are to benefit from opportunities in employment and mobility but they are also necessary to participate actively in the social and political processes which are an integral part of democratic citizenship in the multilingual societies of Council of Europe member states.
This increasing focus on language policies for democratic citizenship and social cohesion reflects the priority which the Council of Europe accords to education for citizenship and intercultural dialogue in the 21st century. It is reflected in the goal of education for plurilingual and intercultural citizens capable of interacting in a number of languages across linguistic and cultural boundaries.

    - 'Multilingualism' refers to the presence in a geographical area, large or small, of more than one 'variety of language' i.e. the mode of speaking of a social group whether it is formally recognised as a language or not; in such an area individuals may be monolingual, speaking only their own variety.
    - 'Plurilingualism' refers to the repertoire of varieties of language which many individuals use, and is therefore the opposite of monolingualism; it includes the language variety referred to as 'mother tongue' or 'first language' and any number of other languages or varieties. Thus in some multilingual areas some individuals are monolingual and some are plurilingual.

Council of Europe policy attaches particular importance to the development of plurilingualism – the lifelong enrichment of the individual’s plurilingual repertoire. This repertoire is made up of different languages and language varieties at different levels of proficiency and includes different types of competences. It is dynamic and changes in its composition throughout an individual’s life.
The use and development of an individual’s plurilingual competence is possible because different languages are not learned in isolation and can influence each other both in the learning process and communicative use. Education systems need to ensure the harmonious development of learners’ plurilingual competence through a coherent, transversal and integrated approach that takes into account all the languages in learners’ plurilingual repertoire and their respective functions. This includes promoting learners’ consciousness of their existing repertoires and potential to develop and adapt those repertoires to changing circumstances.

A plurilingual person has:
- a repertoire of languages and language varieties
- competences of different kinds and levels within the repertoire
Plurilingual education promotes:
- an awareness of why and how one learns the languages one has chosen
- an awareness of and the ability to use transferable skills in language learning
- a respect for the plurilingualism of others and the value of languages and varieties irrespective of their perceived status in society
- a respect for the cultures embodied in languages and the cultural identities of others
- an ability to perceive and mediate the relationships which exist among languages and cultures
- a global integrated approach to language education in the curriculum