11th National Selection Conference of European Youth Parliament Ukraine
Committee on Culture and Education Chairperson: Lesya POHORILA (UA)
With multilingualism being an important element in Europe's competitiveness, one of the EU's language policy goals is for every European to speak 2 languages in addition to their mother tongue. How should the EU act in order to effectively implement this objective?
The idea of multilingualism is not new in the European Union, where since the beginning people from different countries have always had to find ways to communicate. In 2002, the EU specified its official language policy in the Barcelona Objectives – from now on, the goal was for every citizen to speak at least 2 foreign languages. While it is clear that multilingualism is a useful tool in reaching cultural understanding and facilitating cooperation across borders, the policy is being be criticized for not being sufficiently implemented, and consequently, lacking visible results in practice. This article is to prove that there are real advantages of multilingualism in regard to the economic value, health benefits, and social processes that, unlike cultural gains, can be measured.
Imagine working at a place 24 different languages are spoken on a daily basis, and every single official document has to be translated into all of them. No wonder that the cost of interpretation for all the EU institutions reaches up to 1 billion annually. If the Barcelona Objective was fully implemented, this cost itself would decrease to at least 30%, not to mention how much translation costs and trouble would it save for all the companies, organisations and individuals all across the continent. If the budget was spent on language learning instead of interpretation, the cost would be roughly similar, but it would have a long-term impact instead of immediate results.
Speaking multiple languages can also be beneficial for the general health of individuals. It has been scientifically proven that multilingualism improves memory and exercises your cognitive skills. You will see that with every new language that you learn, it will become easier to memorise structures and vocabulary, as your memory is developing at a rapid pace and your brain learns to think differently. Languages also slow down the ageing of the brain, which contributes to the preservation of one's mental health. Those who practice languages frequently are nearly impossible to develop Alzheimer disease or dementia, as well as they are less likely to face worsening of cognitive skills as they age.
Examining the issue from the social perspective, multilingualism helps to eliminate prejudice and foster social inclusion. People that speak numerous languages are more likely to migrate, and if they can communicate in the native language of a new country, the locals tend to subconsciously omit the barriers between "us" and "them", which in turn leads to the same attitude towards other excluded groups in the society. How can you understand someone's point of view, include them, and cooperate with them if you cannot even communicate with them? This is why language is first and foremost a tool enabling building understanding of different national and ethnic groups coexisting together in the EU.
On the other hand, however, when it comes to "mother tongue + 2" formula, vulnerable groups such as the poor, disabled or unemployed are oftentimes left out of the learning process. This is why, it is crucial to ensure that when we address the problem, we leave no one behind and offer them equal opportunities to learn and develop their language skills.