Språk -nøkkelen til solidaritet

<p>I november er det kommissær for flerspråklighet, Leonard Orban, som har undertegnet månedens penn.&nbsp;Kommissæren berømmer nordmenn for sine kunnskaper i engelsk, men minner om at bred bruk av engelsk kan gå på bekostning av andre fremmedspråk.</p>

Linguistic diversity has perhaps always been the most characteristic feature of our Union, the most concrete expression of our motto of 'unity in diversity.' The very first regulation passed by the European Economic Community back in 1957, gave parity to the official languages of the founding member states; parity of treatment equals parity of esteem. It is as relevant today, and as defining of the European project, as it was 50 years ago. We now have 23 official languages, as opposed to the original four, as well as over 60 regional or minority languages and many migrant languages.

However, a net increase in the number of languages spoken within our borders is only part of the picture; there has also been a dramatic rise in the level of interaction between the speakers of these languages. With increased intra-European mobility and migration multilingualism now means more than a distant political principle of respect for linguistic diversity. It is a palpable reality. Not only those in border regions or metropolises, but even those in the remotest towns and villages of our continent are now confronted with foreign languages on a daily basis.

It is against this background that I have issued a new strategic Communication entitled Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment.  The aim is to step up a gear in our language policies, so as to both reflect the new realities of a more diverse Europe, and to equip our citizens with the tools to benefit from these changes. It was the product of a long consultation process with all kinds of stakeholders: business, the media, academia and the public themselves. Our thinking was further shaped by the findings of the high-level group of intellectuals I commissioned to reflect on the role of languages in intercultural dialogue, chaired by the French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf; and the Business Forum on Languages headed by, Viscount Etienne Davignon.

As both groups emphasised, there is a need to move beyond the well-trodden ground of promoting languages as a source of cultural enrichment and demonstrate that multilingualism also offers Europe much deeper rewards: a solid languages policy can strengthen the life-chances of our citizens, by providing them with greater choice on the job market and more equal access to services and rights; it can help us move beyond coexistence between different communities and build more sustainable and cohesive societies; it can play a role in our external relations and public diplomacy with third-countries; and it can help European enterprise prosper with the seismic changes are taking place in the global economy.

The Communication is brimming with initiatives to help European citizens learn languages: from increasing mobility, to offering better provisions in schools, vocational training and adult education, to working with the media and new technologies. However we are not just keen to enhance language-teaching in Member States; we also want to see a much wider range of languages being made available to European citizens.

Some countries in Europe, especially Scandinavian ones like Norway, have succeeded in becoming effectively bilingual, for which they deserve recognition and praise. However it is now time to build on this success and become multilingual. It is true that English has become an international language of communication, of major importance in the business world. However, as Mr Lars-Kare Legernes, CEO of Oslo Chamber of Commerce, and an active member of the Business Forum, emphasised, Norwegian companies’ proficiency in English can be limiting if it used at the expense of learning other languages. Our research shows that one in ten European SMEs are losing contracts due to a lack of language skills.

As a colleague remarked at a recent debate; “you can buy anything in the world speaking English; but if you want to sell you had better learn your client’s language.” Not only should Norway reverse its decline in the learning of other European languages, such as German and French, in order to fully reap the rewards of the single market; but it would also do well to include non-European languages such as Mandarin, Russian, Hindi and Arabic in its school and university curricula, in order to handle the consumer explosion in the developing economies.

Our diversity makes our Union what it is: not a ‘melting pot’ in which differences are rendered down, but a common home in which diversity is celebrated. This is why we have always valued all of our mother tongues. Now we must learn to truly embrace all of them, as a source of wealth and a bridge to greater solidarity and mutual understanding.