September 26 2012 saw the eleventh annual European Day of Languages, established in 2002 by the Council of Europe as a celebration of linguistic diversity across the continent. The principal message conveyed was that foreign language skills are a necessary right for each and everyone one of us, regardless of nationality, geographical location, age or ability. Because Europe has a wealth of linguistic and cultural diversity that should be celebrated and preserved. To what end, one might ask.

Through doing so we not only learn to cherish our own cultural traditions but also foster a greater understanding of other cultures. The more plurilingualism that exists in society, the more people are exposed to new ways of thinking and intercultural understanding is therefore increased. The European Day of Languages was founded to promote lifelong language learning for all; whether for travel purposes, business needs or simply pleasure.

Why English alone is not enough:

With the world and Europe becoming increasingly smaller places, and international mobility more accessible to us all, it is no longer acceptable to rely on the fact that everyone will have a decent enough level of English for us not to have to bother trying out other languages. The recent recruitment of volunteers with language skills for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, when the UK welcomed the world to its shores, is living testimony to this. Not only was there a huge requirement for professional translators and interpreters to deal with the millions of international visitors, but also a need for multi-lingual personnel working in all areas from ticket sales to legal representation. Although we don’t stage such enormous international events each and every year, it is undeniable that even within our own country, globalisation and international business ownership patterns have created a need in numerous professions for foreign language skills.  Similarly, in Europe alone there are now more opportunities than ever to live and study or work abroad. It is also, however, a sad truth that people are often unable to make the most of such experiences due to a lack of the necessary language skills.

European languages

It is hard to put an exact figure on it but estimates hover around the 225 mark for the number of indigenous languages currently in existence in modern Europe. This number of course does not include the additional languages brought into Europe by the continual arrival of refugees and migrants from the four corners of the earth, especially to capital cities. More than 300 languages are spoken in London alone, for example.

It is widely believed that being able to communicate or to understand another language is a hugely enriching experience in itself.  Indeed "…to have another language is to possess a second soul" (Charlemagne).  Once could kick-start themselves into linguistic action and enrol on the Oxford Open Learning French or Spanish IGCSE or A’Level home study course.

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Jerry Crosby
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