Language learning in the EU

EU language experts would like to encourge European citizens to learn more languages, especially such languages as Arabic, Chinese and Hindi, according to a report I found today. They hope this will ” boost the EU’s global competitiveness”. They would also like language teaching to be more enjoyable and entertaining in order to try to increase enthusiasm for learning languages.

These proposals will presented tomorrow during the European Day of Languages, which is designed “to celebrate the rich heritage of cultures and traditions embodied in all the languages of Europe”.

Does anyone know who these language experts are, what they do, and who to get a job as one?

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

15 Responses to Language learning in the EU

  1. Polly says:

    Don’t Europeans already have too many languages to learn? I figure Belgians and Swiss, especially, have to learn about 4 languages just to get around their own countries.
    Don’t get me wrong, it’s admirable. In fact, I’d like to see Americans take language education more seriously.

    I really can’t understand why so many of my countrymen HATE foreign languages. I wonder if there are any surveys showing high school subjects ranked according to popularity?

    I bet Language would be worst, with mathematics coming in a close second.

  2. Chibi says:

    I think the reason why many people in America hate learning foreign languages is simply out of laziness…many people (including many of my friends) all think “Hey, if the rest of the world is learning English, why do I need to learn any other language?” I doubt more than 25% of the people who study foreign language in school wouldn’t study a language if it wasn’t required for graduation. However, I also wish more Americans were as interested in languages I am :(

    If I took that survey (hey, I am a high school student :P), I would put Science as worst, and English as second worst :D (Ironically, languages and math are my two FAVORITE subjects).

  3. Polly says:

    I didn’t know that about you, Chibi.

    If I were still in school, I would put Foreign Language and Science at the top of the list (I don’t know which I like more) with Math at 3rd place. Then all the other subjects below in any order depending on what strikes my fancy.

    As it stands, I think schools find miraculously innovative ways to suck all the joy out of learning and that goes triple for foreign languages.

  4. Rmss says:

    Well, as a language teacher in training (I’m majoring Spanish) I have to deal with this everyday. Those language experts are most likely people of the “Common European Framework of Reference”. They set goals for the different levels in the EU (from A1 to C2) and create and work out plans to encourage language learning in the EU.

  5. Jerry says:

    I don’t think it is Americans who “hate” languages, but rather Anglophones in general. I have never done a survey, I am sure that even among educated Anglophones one would find a very low level of biligualism. That is probably true even in bilingual Canada.
    I don’t see why the EU would be encouraging Arabic, Hindi and Chinese when a lot of Europeans cannot even speak the tongue of a neighbouring country. How many Germans speak French, or vice versa? How many Austrians would learn Hungarian?
    It seems to me that the EU should be promoting European langagues first, if the are at serious about integration.

  6. Declan says:

    I wonder where you are from Jerry?

  7. Colm says:

    I am a French and English language teacher in Estonia I find it difficult to settle on a method of teaching because personally I would love to teach the language with total immersion but the students want to understand grammar and have a more structured approach. I feel you have to have a balance but when I was at school I felt there was not enough emphasis on the oral language and too much on the written. After all when you arrive in a foreign country and need to communicate to people at a post office or a train station the important thing is the end-result, not the method. So if your grammar is a little shaky no-one minds. However in language classes all over (not just in the Anglophone world but everywhere) students leave school after six years of foreign language instruction able to produce perfect essays on global warming but can’t even order a coffee at a deli-counter.

    I am trying an organic method of teaching i.e. teaching students grammar implicitly through teaching them phrases and sentences but it’s proving difficult. The problem is that the students don’t make the connections and when I gave them a written translation exercise the results were woeful. Even though they had all seen all pieces of the language before they were unable to reproduce them.

    So I am thinking I will have to be more structured in my teaching with more emphasis on written exercises. It’s a shame.

  8. Steve says:

    Yes, I know who the language experts are and I’ve got a job as one.

  9. James says:

    Colm,

    As an adult learner people WANT to be able to study the “map” (grammar) of the language, and when teachers have just told me to “wonder the streets and I´ll find my way around” it´s a bit annoying because one of the advantages we have as concious learners is more of an ability to study the map. In the end though you need to read the map in order to wonder the streets…

    Metaphorically

    J

  10. Joe says:

    James is right, it’s not just Americans, you get the same complaints from language-conscious Brits that their fellow countrymen go on holiday in France or Spain (or even expatriate) without even bothering to learn much if any of the local language)

    I think that in the Anglophone sphere, we just happen to have a sort of reluctancy to learn other languages. It’s true that in Canada, unless you live in a heavily Francophone area, French skills among Anglophones really aren’t much to write home about. I even have a friend who’s an Anglophone Quebecker who can’t really speak more than rudimentary French.

    Anyway, for the English speaker in a foreign country, nowadays it takes a lot of dedication to practice the local language if you’re in a major metropolitan area. So many people are eager to try their English out on you that you need to either pretend you yourself don’t speak English or just keep speaking their language anyway. A lot of average tourists would at this point just figure to heck with it and just speak English, and can you really blame them?

    But the EU has, for all intents and purposes, a very ambitious, if not overly ambitious, language policy. You figure, English is now taught everywhere as part of the general curriculum and some countries don’t even consider it a foreign language but rather a standard subject expected to be taught like math or science. Then, depending on the country you live in, it’s necessary sometimes to learn one of the other official languages… for example, in Finland, Swedish or Finnish depending on your native tongue… or indeed, one of the other 3 official Swiss languages (though does anyone even learn Romansch?) etc. On top of that, unless a student is a serious language lover, expecting them to then learn a non-IE language such as Arabic or Mandarin is really pushing it. I don’t even see how you could possibly fit all those in the general curriculum.

    I think, however, they’re talking more along the lines of later encouraging more Europeans to take up studying one of those languages, much as in the US we’re trying to encourage the same, to stay globally competitive.

  11. Jerry says:

    Hi Declan,

    Born in the Netherlands; living in Canada for nearly 40 years.

  12. harris e. says:

    As a highschool student myself in America, I personally think the reason why learning languages is so unpopular in the US is the teachers and the ways languages are taught; for example in my school the two least popular teachers are the heads of the Spanish and German departments. In addition, American schools, due to No Child Left Behind, refuse to accelerate students who have a strong propensity for language learning, thus making them uninterested in the language due to their boredom.

  13. Joe says:

    Not to go off on a political tangent, but you can’t blame the lack of interest in languages amongst American students to No Child Left Behind. I’m far from being a fan of that policy, and I’m certainly no fan of the administration, but things weren’t any better in American education before No Child Left Behind, as far as language education is concerned. I had already completed my High School language requirements by the time NCLB was passed and implemented (2001-2002) You could argue that it stifles the right of teachers to control education, but state and federal laws have been doing that already for years. The fact is, unless a school possesses adequate resources, gifted language students don’t really have anywhere to go but to higher level classes in that language.

    And language classes are more or less the same anywhere. It varies on the teacher, the level of interest in the student, etc. But you can’t easily make someone interested in something if they view it as a burden.

    I’ll be perfectly honest, I find language learning to be much more fun and productive when I study by myself. Now, I’m one of those people who’s good at teaching themselves, but when I take language classes at my uni (and right now I’m in some upper advanced French class about French civilization and Intermediate Italian) what always happens is the class pretty much moves at the pace of the slower students, and rightfully so. That’s how it usually is in any group learning situation. So I usually only formal language courses when I need the external pressure to stay on track.

    And might I add, sometimes it can even be outright boring and burdensome. Nothing is ever as fun when you have deadlines and grades, though I will say my language experiences in college are vastly superior to those in high school.

    If we’re going to get students to learn languages in this country, it needs to start being implemented from an earlier age, as well as driving home the point that this is actually an important skill to have. But even then, Americans are more of an isolationist group and many people may have little intention to ever travel to a country where English isn’t spoken, so they figure it’s worthless to spend time on something which wouldn’t be practical to them (the same way you or I may gripe that we aren’t going to be mathematicians so why do we need to learn Geometry) We’re speaking from a biased viewpoint, it’s important to take it from the casual learner who just does it because they have to and wants it to be as painless a process as possible.

  14. James says:

    the reason anglophones don´t generally learn other languages is there is little perceived need and there is no societal expectation of speaking other languages. Here (Chile) is you speak English it´s a strong status symbol, and people are very keen to learn. Add to that often prosaic teaching (not necessarily the teachers´s fault) and you end up with this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngRq82c8Baw

    rather than this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcP6pJDZkBE

    ;)

  15. yashka says:

    Simon,

    Keep and eye on http://www.myngle.com – you will soon see all the “more rare” language experts (and not only) venturing into the market space of online learning. It’s going to be a great platform which will also add the missing fun element to the learning process.

    All the best,