According to Europe’s Language and Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou learning foreign languages can be a way out of the economic crisis for many Europeans. We already wrote about examples in other countries like Canada which show that being bilingual pays off.
The European Union committed to promote multilingualism with the goal of every citizen of the EU speaking at least two foreign languages. This way people would become more mobile and language savvy and enable them to find work across borders.
At the European Economic and Social Committee that took place early March Vassiliou stated that institutions and businesses in the EU must also learn to better cope with a multilingual society.
The latest figures of the European Commission show that only 42% of 15 year olds in the EU are competent in their first foreign language which they usually learned for seven years in school. But this figure varies heavily across the EU with for example 82% of 15 year olds being competent in Sweden compared to only 9% in the UK.
Vassiliou also thinks that language skills should not only be a field for experts like linguists, translators or interpreters.
“Languages, like politics, are too important to our lives to be left to specialists only.”
She also addressed the notion that English is now the de facto lingua franca in Brussels and therefore gaining influence as the main language of the workplace in the European Union. Though speaking English is probably a basic skill today, it should not come at the expense of the other European languages.
“I am still absolutely convinced that it is more and more the knowledge of other languages that can make the difference in getting a job and progressing in one’s career.”
Due to the current economic crisis the multilingualism strategy of the European Commission, also called “mother tongue plus two”, policy makers are now more open to once again revisit the strategy and work on a new European benchmark for language acquisition. Vassiliou hopes that the new proposal which is going to measure how many students are learning two foreign languages will be adopted in 2014.