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The European Day of Languages: Celebrating Language

European Union flagThere’s no denying that we live in troublesome times. Terrorist attacks around Europe, a continuous influx of refugees, Brexit and countless other factors have given rise to feelings of xenophobia and nationalism, threatening the integrity of Europe.

In these times it is good to remember the ethos upon which Europe stands strong, unity in diversity: the belief that Europe is strong because of its differences, not despite them.

Perhaps the most notable difference around Europe is the language. Sure, English is widely spoken throughout Europe (over 51% of EU citizens speak it as either a first or second language) and it is easy enough to get by with English in most cities.

However, language barriers have proven problematic around most European countries, which is why the European Union has an impressive 24 official languages, employing hundreds translators and interpreters for each of these languages  – giving all its citizens a voice and allowing for a certain level of transparency and accountability.

The Council of Europe, which is significantly larger than the EU adopts a similar stance to the EU on languages and diversity, however, because its resources are much more limited than the Union’s, it only has two official languages: French and English. Along with those two: German, Italian, Russian and Turkish are also all working languages.

It was these two institutions that came together in 2001 and designated today, the 26th of September, the European Day of Languages, with three main intentions, all of which go hand in hand:

Language LearningThe first is to foster language learning. As someone who speaks three languages, and many multilingual people would agree, learning a language is not only about the grammar and lexis. A certain level of cultural understanding comes into it. Every language is a reflection of its cultural origins and I would argue that it’s simply not possible to learn a language and not gain a deeper insight and understanding of its people and culture.

The second goal of the European Day of Languages is lifelong learning, both within and outside the mainstream educational system. It is never too late to pick up a book and learn something new. It sounds like a cliché, but there’s no other way to put it. No matter your age, discovering and understanding something new is always worth the effort. We see this every day at ESE, we’ve catered for students well into their 70s with great success.

Travel around EuropeWhat inspires these people is, of course, the wish to travel, but it goes much deeper than that. With the travel bug, comes the wish to communicate with a whole new world, explore and discover a whole new aspect of Earth which, while not closed shut, is incredibly limited until a new language bursts the door open.

The final and perhaps most important goal is to promote multiculturalism. As mentioned, and always worth reiterating, learning and speaking multiple languages will also further your knowledge of a people. Which is why so many English lessons centre around the history and culture of Great Britain, specifically its art and literature (Shakespeare anyone?). The same can be said of Italian, for example, for which Dante, among countless others, springs to mind.

For every language that you speak you essentially have another persona that you can don whenever you please. Personally, there are certain things I prefer to express in English, others in Maltese, and others in Italian. Why? Because I associate these things to an aspect of the language, and consequently, the culture.

Put simply, the more multilingual people there are in the world, the less intolerance you will encounter.

With all this in mind, consider today, the European Day of Languages, a good day to pick up a few phrases in one of the 225 indigenous European languages.

Actually, don’t limit yourself to European languages, there’s over 6,000 languages in the world to choose from! And it’s wise to remember that the more languages you know, the more doors open up in your life.

 

 

Benjamin Charles Cassar - ESE Malta Author: Benjamin Charles Cassar

 

About the Author:  Benjamin Charles Cassar is the Academic e-Resources Coordinator at ESE.   He has taught a wide range of ages and levels since joining ESE in 2011 and enjoys travelling, reading and writing when time allows.