Languages define personal identities, but they are also part of a shared inheritance. They can serve as a bridge to other peoples and cultures by promoting mutual understanding and a shared sense of European identity.
Effective multilingualism policies and initiatives can strengthen the opportunities of citizens. Language skills may also increase individuals’ employability, facilitate access to services and rights, and contribute to solidarity through enhanced intercultural dialogue and social cohesion.
The EU now has three alphabets and 24 official languages. Some 60 other languages are currently spoken in particular regions or by specific groups. Immigration has also brought numerous additional languages to the EU. It is estimated that citizens of at least 175 nationalities are now living within the EU’s borders.
Linguistic diversity is enshrined in Article 22 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The respect for the rights of persons belonging to minorities is a fundamental element of the Charter. It prohibits discrimination against people belonging to a minority group and demands respect for cultural, religious and linguistic diversity across the Union. The Commission ensures that fundamental rights and, in particular, the right to non-discrimination, are respected when EU law is implemented.
However, Member States have the exclusive right to define or recognise national minorities within their borders, including the rights of minority groups to self-determination (as laid out in the Council of Europe's European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities). This right extends to national or regional minority languages.
All countries have different degrees of linguistic diversity and different ways of managing this diversity. Many interesting pedagogical approaches can be found in bilingual regions and multilingual classrooms around Europe. Eurydice, the European Union's network of national units for education analysis based in all Erasmus+ programme countries, has included support measures for the teaching of regional or minority languages in the 2017 edition of Key Data on teaching languages at school in Europe. A more recent Eurydice publication provides a specific overview focusing on measures taken by education authorities to support the teaching of regional and minority languages in school.
How the EU promotes linguistic diversity
Every year on 26 September, the Commission unites with the Council of Europe, the European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML), language institutions and citizens across Europe to promote linguistic diversity and language learning through the European Day of Languages. This initiative celebrates linguistic diversity through a range of events, and various happenings.
EU Education and Culture programmes will continue their history of support for language learning projects. Through funding programmes such as Erasmus+ and Creative Europe the European Union supports language learning and linguistic diversity through for example mobility programs, cooperation projects and the support for European Capitals of Culture. Thanks to these programs, many successful projects promote learning and the visibility of regional and minority languages in Europe. Some examples can be found in the Eurydice brief on the teaching of regional or minority languages in schools in Europe.
Creative Europe also supports literary translation to allow wider access to important literary works and to maintain linguistic diversity in the EU.