The continent of Europe has many languages- 23 official languages in the EU, and as new countries join, more languages are added. There are more than 60 indigenous regional and minority languages – some of which have official status locally e.g. Sami in the North, Sorbian towards the east, Sardinian in the South and Basque in the West. New languages also continue to be added by immigrant communities, and in cities such as London, Paris, Brussels and Berlin, hundreds of languages are spoken.
Language policy in the EU
The EU has language policies in place which aim to protect linguistic diversity and promote knowledge of languages – for reasons of cultural identity and social integration, but also because multilingual citizens are better placed to take advantage of the educational, professional and economic opportunities created by an integrated Europe.
This article courtesy of Vistawide World Languages & Cultures, outlines 10 advantages of having a knowledge of other languages
1. To increase global understanding
“… Effective communication and successful negotiations with a foreign partner–whether with a partner in peacekeeping, a strategic economic partner, a political adversary, or a non-English speaking contact in .. law enforcement …..requires strong comprehension of the underlying cultural values and belief structures that are part of the life experience of the foreign partner.” – Dr. Dan Davidson, President of the American Councils on International Education
“A different language is a different vision of life.” – Fellini, Italian film director
“No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” – Gandhi, Indian nationalist and spiritual leader
Learning another language gives the learner the ability to step inside the mind and context of that other culture. Without the ability to communicate and understand a culture on its own terms, true access to that culture is barred. Why is this important? In a world where nations and peoples are ever more dependent upon on another to supply goods and services, solve political disputes, and ensure international security, understanding other cultures is paramount. Lack of intercultural sensitivity can lead to mistrust and misunderstandings, to an inability to cooperate, negotiate, and compromise, and perhaps even to military confrontation. Intercultural understanding begins with individuals who have language abilities and who can thereby provide one’s own nation or community with an insider’s view into foreign cultures, who can understand foreign news sources, and give insights into other perspectives on international situations and current events. For survival in the global community, every nation needs such individuals. A person competent in other languages can bridge the gap between cultures, contribute to international diplomacy, promote national security and world peace, and successfully engage in international trade.
2. To improve employment potential
“The English language alone is probably sufficient if all we need to do is buy our products abroad, if we need to purchase foreign goods and services. But when it comes to selling a product abroad, you have to understand the psychology and the belief structure of your client. If you are selling ..abroad and telling .. story abroad […] then you have to understand the value systems of that foreign public that you are speaking to.” – Dr. Dan Davidson
If businesses are to effectively compete in a global economy, they must learn to deal with other cultures on their own terms. Companies that plan to do business abroad therefore have a dire need for bilingual or multilingual employees. Businesses that intend to compete internationally need employees who can competently communicate in the locales where they do business. Employees who speak one language can communicate only with people who speak that same language.
Business is not the only area of employment where language competencies are needed, however. Multiple government agencies, the travel industry, engineering, communications, the field of education, international law, economics, public policy, publishing, advertising, entertainment, scientific research, and an broad array of service sectors all have needs for people with foreign language skills.
Whatever your career goals, knowing a language certainly won’t hurt your employability. Chances are that knowing languages will open up employment opportunities that you would not have had otherwise. And you will be able to command a greater salary in the workplace. All else being equal, knowing languages gives you an edge over monolingual applicants competing for the same jobs.
3. To increase native language ability
“Those who know nothing of foreign languages, knows nothing of their own.” – Goethe
Research shows that knowledge of other languages boosts students’ understanding of languages in general and enables students to use their native language more effectively. This applies to specific language skills as well as overall linguistic abilities. Foreign language learners have stronger vocabulary skills in English, a better understanding of the language, and improved literacy in general. Higher reading achievement in the native language as well as enhanced listening skills and memory have been shown to correlate with extended foreign language study. These results are apparent in several studies as well as in test scores. With each additional year of foreign language instruction taken, a student’s scores on ..exams .. improve incrementally.
4. To sharpen cognitive and life skills
“We have strong evidence today that studying a foreign language has a ripple effect, helping to improve student performance in other subjects.” – Richard Riley, U.S. Secretary of Education under Bill Clinton
Because learning a language involves a variety of learning skills, studying a foreign language can enhance one’s ability to learn and function in several other areas. Children who have studied a language at the elementary level score higher on tests in reading, language arts, and math. People who have learned foreign languages show greater cognitive development in areas such as mental flexibility, creativity, and higher order thinking skills, such as problem-solving, conceptualizing, and reasoning.
In addition to cognitive benefits, the study of foreign languages leads to the acquisition of some important life skills. Because language learners learn to deal with unfamiliar cultural ideas, they are much better equipped to adapt and cope in a fast-changing world. They also learn to effectively handle new situations. In addition, the encounter with cultures different from one’s own leads to tolerance of diverse lifestyles and customs. And it improves the learner’s ability to understand and communicate with people from different walks of life.
5. To improve chances of entry into further and higher education
… ….Even when an undergraduate or graduate institution doesn’t require foreign language study… knowing a language can’t hurt your application, and is highly likely to make you a more competitive candidate in the admissions process.
6. To appreciate international literature, music, and film
“The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.” – Thomas Moore, Irish poet, satirist, and composer
Most of the world’s literary and artistic works have been written in languages other than English. A translation of a text can never be fully true to the intent, beauty, style, and uniqueness of its original. A translation is always to a large degree subject to the interpretation of the translator, not least because some elements of languages simply don’t have translations in other languages. Word plays, metaphors, innuendoes, cultural references and culturally loaded vocabulary words, and formulations unique to the original language often get lost in translation. To be able to fully appreciate literature, theatre, music, and film in other languages, one must be able to access them in their original form.
7. To make travel more feasible and enjoyable
“Here speeching American.” – A sign in a Mallorcan shop entrance
“Cold shredded children and sea blubber in spicy sauce.” – From a menu in China
“Refund!” – On a “Caution! Wet floor!” sign in a McDonald’s restaurant in Italy
Though it’s possible to travel to foreign countries without speaking the native language, your experience will be largely shaped by your ability or inability to see beyond the surface of the culture. When you lack the ability to communicate in the native language, you can not fully participate in day-to-day life, understand the culture, or communicate with the people. The language barrier can be anywhere from frustrating to downright dangerous. When you know the language, you have the comfort of being able to successfully navigate all sorts of situations, like order meals in restaurants, ask for and understand directions, find accommodation and perhaps negotiate cheaper prices, and meet and talk with natives, to name only a few. In most countries, people will appreciate attempts to use their language. You will be able to communicate more completely and have a deeper, more satisfying travel experience.
It’s true that in tourist areas English may be spoken. However, .. many are uncomfortable speaking it, particularly beyond their limited interactions with tourists. In addition, these well-beaten paths are not places where you will get to know the country you’re visiting — they cater to tourists and provide a watered-down and often stereotypical and commercialized version of the culture … If you intend to … explore the real country and really get to know it, you must know the language. Your language ability will allow you to see and do things that many visitors cannot.
8. To expand study abroad options
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost, American poet
….. students often shy away from studying in countries where English is not the native language for all the wrong reasons. They mistakenly believe that their grades will suffer, that their language proficiency isn’t adequate, or that they won’t be able to fit in or understand the culture.
…… Because students can focus on their language development while learning about the culture, their daily experiences and courses complement one another, leading to comparable or even better grades than at the home institution…For advanced language students, the opportunities are even greater. Applicants at the advanced skill level can participate in programs that allow them to be fully immersed and integrated into the academic and social life of the country in which they are studying.
9. To increase understanding of oneself and one’s own culture
“The individual’s whole experience is built upon the plan of his language.” – Henri Delacroix, French painter and filmmaker
“As the traveller who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.” – Margaret Mead, anthropologist
Knowing another language and culture affords you the unique opportunity of seeing yourself and your own culture from an outside perspective. There are aspects of your language, yourself, your life, and your own culture that you accept as absolute and universal or that you have never even considered until you encounter a culture and people who do things in a much different way than you’re used to. Contact with other languages and cultures gives you the unique opportunity to step outside your familiar scope of existence and view your culture’s customs, traditions, and norms as well as your own value system through the eyes of others. Conversely, a monolingual, monocultural view of the world severely limits your perspective. Intercultural experiences have a monumental influence on shaping your identity, heightening your self-awareness, and giving you a full appreciation of your life situation. These things can happen only with knowledge of cultures and languages other than your own.
10. To make lifelong friends
The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway.” – Henry Boye, author
Knowing other languages effectively increases the number of people on the globe with whom you can communicate. And people who speak other languages fully appreciate the effort and desire learners expend to get to know their culture and to communicate with them. An ability to speak other languages and your interest in other cultures can connect you deeply with people .
Language policy milestones
The goal is a Europe where everyone can speak at least two other languages in addition to their own mother tongue.
These all mark key stages in the formulation of current multilingualism policy – most recent first. A full list of policy documents can be found in the Key documents database which can be found http://europa.eu/index_en.htm
Strategic framework for cooperation on education and training (2009) Education ministers call for further Commission action to promote language learning, e.g. for adults as part of vocational training, and to help migrants learning the language of the host country.
EU strategy for multilingualism (2008) EU ministers set out what the EU should be doing to promote language learning and protect linguistic diversity.
Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment (2008) The Commission’s assessment of what needs to be done to turn linguistic diversity into an asset for solidarity and prosperity
Inventory of EU actions in the field of multilingualism (2008) A full report on action to promote languages in all fields
Online consultation on multilingualism (2007) See the responses to the public consultation and the discussion that followed
For more information go to this link.