Languages are for everybody, whatever your age and whatever your reasons for wanting to learn. They help to break down personal as well as national barriers, allowing Europeans to communicate with each other, to work together and to move between countries.
The EU is helping to bring languages closer to its citizens, enabling them to play a greater role in a modern, multicultural Europe. It is doing this through its programmes for citizens of all ages, improving assessment and standardising qualifications, supporting students with special needs and disseminating information and good practices for students and teachers.
Learning a language can be an enjoyable and deeply rewarding experience. The main thing is to find a method that suits your needs and the amount of time you have available.
- learn by yourself - self-teaching courses are available in a wide variety of languages and media, from DVDs and CD-ROMs to audio-cassettes and textbooks
- watch TV - many broadcasting companies offer language courses via television or radio programmes
- surf the Internet - a growing number of websites offer lessons in foreign languages, often with sound and pictures
- learn with a teacher - the advantage of taking lessons with a group of other learners is that you have friends to encourage you in your learning and a teacher to guide you according to your specific needs
- learn at work - more and more employers are recognising that foreign language skills are vital to the success of their business, and many larger companies offer free or subsidised language courses
- find a partner - tandem learning involves a partnership of two native speakers, working together through correspondence (e-mail/telephone, etc.)
What is the European Union doing?
In 2003, the European Commission published an “Action Plan on Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity” which stated that it is “more important than ever that citizens have the skills necessary to understand and communicate with their neighbours”.
The Plan has three main elements:
- life-long language learning (including making an early start)
- better language teaching
- building a language-friendly environment
Although most initiatives come from the Member State level, the EU complements this work by funding awareness-raising actions including studies, trans-national projects, information sharing and exchange, a web portal and conferences.
Early language learning directly and positively affects the academic and personal development of children. Introducing foreign languages at a young age, preferably before the age of 12, can result in faster language learning, improved mother tongue literary skills, and better performance in other areas.
Learning a new language is about much more than passing exams or getting good marks. It is about opening up new life opportunities, making new friends in different countries, experiencing other cultures and broadening your horizons.
Higher education learners
Higher education institutions do much to promote language learning and develop multilingualism, both in individuals and more broadly in society. As well as specific language courses, language training is made available to students from all disciplines as part of their course or as an extra-curricular activity.
Languages can be an enjoyable and lifelong pursuit. Language learning offers a range of benefits, from personal development, to improving the experience of travel, to opening up new career opportunities.
Learners with special needs
Due to learning, communication or social difficulties, some students have “special education needs” (SEN). Such students must have equal rights and access to foreign language education and, to ensure this, the European Commission supports the adaptation and promotion of specific teaching methods and materials.
Assessment and certification
In a multicultural Europe, with its diverse languages and institutions, it is essential to have language qualifications that are recognised by all.