The European Year of Languages 2001

By decision of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union of 8 June 20001 , it was agreed to establish the European Year of Languages 2001. A Europe-wide information campaign is planned with the objectives of raising awareness of the wealth of linguistic diversity in Europe and of the need for lifelong learning of languages. Information on methods of learning languages is also to be provided.

Linguistic diversity is a key element of Europe's cultural heritage and will remain so. Embracing diversity is a prerequisite for constructing a Europe in which all citizens enjoy equal status and equal rights, also as regards their languages.

Promoting knowledge of European languages other than the mother tongue is one way of developing successful political, economic and personal contacts between people from different linguistic groups; it promotes intercultural understanding and helps to eradicate xenophobia, racism and intolerance. Speaking languages other than the mother tongue offers greater personal and professional opportunities and real access to the rights conferred by European Union, in particular the right to live and work anywhere in the EU.

Europe's Member States have emphasised the aim of improving and diversifying language learning. In particular, the Council has pointed out in recent resolutions2, that school children as a general rule should have the opportunity of learning one or more languages other than their mother tongue, starting at an early age.

The European Union has also for many years supported and promoted the importance of language learning for example via the Community Programmes Lingua, Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci.

The European Year of Languages 2001 differs however from these education and training programmes in so far as it is aimed at the general public, whereas the existing programmes tend to target people already involved in language learning or teaching.

The activities and measures envisaged during the European Year of Languages include

  • A special website
  • Printed material: posters, leaflets, brochures and a "Guide for language learners"
  • Exhibitions and events
  • Open days at language learning institutions
  • European-wide competitions
  • A European language day
  • An adult language learners' week
  • Television, radio and press coverage.

Projects must cover one or the following languages:

  • The eleven official languages of the European Union (Danish, German, Greek, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish and Finnish)
  • Irish and Letzeburgesch
  • Icelandic and Norwegian (languages of European Economic Area Member States)
  • any other language - including regional and minority languages and sign languages - which European Union Member States designate as eligible.

It was in part thanks to the European Parliament that this programme could be prepared in good time. It called for informal meetings with the Commission and Council to agree on a compromise text in order to avoid a second reading of the proposal and thus made it possible to adopt the decision establishing the European Year of Languages already in June 2000.

Direction générale des Études
Division des Affaires sociales, juridiques et culturelles

7 July, 2000


1 European Parliament and Council Decision of 8 June 2000 (OJ)
2 Council Resolution of 15 March 1995 (OJ C 207/95)
   Council Resolution of 16 December 1997 (OJ C 1/98)