Free Speech

Try getting your tongue around one of Europe's 225 languages in the European Year of Languages 2001.

Language learning is something you can do throughout your lifetime - you are never too old or too young to learn a language! Learning a new tongue is always a challenge, but if it is approached in the right way, it will be enjoyable and provide an immense feeling of satisfaction. It will give a practical skill that can add to the appreciation of other cultures, improve employment prospects and make travel more rewarding.

During the European Year of Languages 2001, the European Commission and the Council of Europe are publishing a Guide for Language Learners. This includes a wide range of practical advice on how to identify the methods and courses most appropriate for everybody, and how to get the maximum benefit from them in order to learn a language as quickly - and as well - as possible.

Many Europeans think that a monolingual way of life is the norm. In many countries, though, it is quite usual for most people to use at least three languages (worldwide, plurilingualism is much more the normal human condition). Such people are better able to move between countries for educational, professional and other reasons. Their skills are attractive to employers and mean better job prospects. They are well placed to take advantage of European citizenship and the single market. Let's not forget that EU citizens have the right to live and work in all member countries.

It goes without saying that it is much easier to use this right if you can speak the language of the country or region you want to go to. This right will also, hopefully in the very near future, be open to Poland as an applicant country. Both the European Commission and the Council of Europe want everybody in Europe to share these benefits, and to help young people in particular become proficient in at least three European languages: their mother tongue plus two more.

Remember! The ability to communicate in two or more languages, even at a modest level, offers opportunities for personal mobility, making friends, employment, education and access to information.

Knowledge of languages also helps to develop tolerance and understanding between people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The Europe of the future, like that of the past and of the present, will be a Europe of linguistic diversity. This diversity is one of Europe's great strengths. But it may still be of some surprise to hear that in Europe we have as many as 225 languages! (Even so, that's only just over 3.5 per cent of the world's total of between 6,000 and 7,000 languages.) Why not try a few of them!

The main things you need to learn a language are:

Curiosity: If you have an interest in languages per se, including your mother tongue, you will make a good language learner.

A desire to communicate: It doesn't matter if you don't follow every word you hear or read, or if your grammar is not perfect. The essential thing is to understand the gist of what people mean and for them to understand you

Enterprise: If you have never learned a foreign language before, don't worry. Anyone can do it! But if you have already learned one foreign language, you will have picked up some techniques that you can apply to a new one. For starters, try to exchange letters or e-mails with someone abroad

Regularity: How fast you learn will depend upon you, but it helps if you can set aside a regular time each day or each week on your language. In two to four hours per week you can make quick progress.

Patience: You can pick up some things very quickly, but patience is important. You cannot learn a language in a few weeks!

Keeping a check on your progress: Many courses include tests to help you see what you have learned and what you need to concentrate on. There are many things you can do to reinforce what you learn on a course, such as reading newspapers, listening to foreign radio or watching films in their original language. The most important tip of all, however, is that everyone learns in a different way, so try different approaches and see which ones work best for you.

The European Year of Languages is taking place now, in 2001, but its effects will not end there. Launching The European Year of Languages in Malmo, Sweden, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, said, "By making more and more people aware of the importance of languages, the Year will create a platform on which we can build in years to come. We will do everything we can to make it a success. But by taking part in the Year and telling other people about it, you can make the most important contribution of all.


Let's take a closer look at Socrates, the European Union's programme to promote language learning, which has been underway for some time.

One of the main objectives of Socrates is to improve people's knowledge of European languages. With a budget of 1.85 million euros from 2000 to 2006, the programme will be able to build on its past achievements.

Under the first phase of the programme from 1995 to 1999:

almost 500,000 students attended universities abroad 10,000 schools worked together in European partnerships

Languages are covered in all eight sections of the Socrates programme, and are specifically targeted under the following:

Lingua: language teaching and learning

projects, seminars, networks and publications to help motivate people to learn languages, and to give greater access to language learning international projects to create new tools for language learning and testing, and to inform the public better about existing methods and materials

Comenius: school education

school partnerships and exchanges - groups of young people from different countries work together on a project, improving their foreign language skills - grants helping current and future language teachers to participate in a period of training abroad, ranging from a one-week course to language assistantships of up to 8 months.

Erasmus: higher education

enabling students to spend between three and 12 months at universities abroad provides an excellent opportunity for developing language skills funding is also available for students to prepare for their Erasmus study period by taking intensive courses in the languages of their host country

Further information on Socrates, including the Guidelines for Applicants forms, is available at: education/socrates.html

The European Label

Every year in each Member State, the EU awards the European Label to innovative language-learning initiatives that meet the criteria agreed on at a European level.


The World Wide Web has many sites on languages, the diversity of languages, multilingualism, language learning etc. Below is just a small selection. Many sites will lead you further by following their collection of links.

European Year of Languages 2001: Council of Europe Modern Languages Division, Strasbourg University of Cambridge Language Centre: Eurolang: Frequently asked questions about linguistics: Ethnologue database (6,700 languages of the world): "Linguistic Olympics" (games, quizzes): Yamada WWW Language Resources: Tongue twisters, with 1,842 entries in 75 languages: And, last but not least, how to say "I love you" in various languages:

by Andrzej Geber