Put Another Language in Your Luggage

And this year was no exception, with over 600 different events taking place in 40 countries celebrating Europe's linguistic diversity and lifelong language learning. In Poland, the Foreign Languages Department of Wroclaw University of Technology staged an IATEFL Conference, which brought together teachers and course book authors to exchange ideas and experience. A joint art exhibition, entitled We in Europe, took place in both Człuchów and Constance, Germany, among many other events happening simultaneously all over the country.

The aims of the European Day of Languages are threefold: to alert the public to the importance of language learning; to increase awareness and appreciation of all the languages spoken in Europe; and to encourage lifelong language learning.

On 20 November, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, came to Warsaw to meet with President Aleksander Kwaoniewski, where they discussed relations between the Council of Europe and Poland in the light of EU enlargement. They also finalized preparations for the 3rd Summit of the Council of Europe, which will take place in Poland in 2005.

The Secretary General spoke to Jerzy Bystrowski, Editor-in-Chief of The World of EnglishR, about the Council of Europe's work on foreign language acquisition, European unity, cultural identity and human rights.

WoE: Why does the Council of Europe think that language diversity is so important?

Sec. General: The Council of Europe does not need to portray linguistic diversity as a factor in the common wealth of Europe as it is already a reality. It is a fact that English is being used more and more frequently as a means of communication and it is also the second language taught in most school systems today. An attempt to change the attitudes of the public and policymakers regarding the importance of English in the European Union is important. However, the Council of Europe is trying to emphasise as one of its concerns, that people should learn their neighbours' languages. People with a command of more than one language definitely have better employment opportunities.

But isn't the dominance of English, as some argue, a bad thing for linguistic diversity?

This is an argument that I often hear. But, in my view, this is no cause for criticism or regret. What the Council of Europe can do, and actually is doing, is help develop a sensible linguistic diversity policy and disseminate it in all our member countries. It is not up to us to condemn the dominance of English in everyday communication or in pop culture. The Council of Europe must attempt to change the attitudes of the public and policy makers, emphasising that English alone is not enough. One of our main concerns is that people should make it a priority to learn their neighbour's language, as well.

What are your suggestions regarding opportunities when Poland becomes a full member of the European Union in May?

Poland has always and should continue to play an important role as a bridge between the eastern part of Europe and the western part. Becoming a member of the EU should not change Poland's position in this matter. The prospects for young people in Poland are almost limitless. They will enjoy freedom of movement within the EU, the chance to study almost without restrictions, and to work in most of the 25 member countries of the European Union. They will have to learn to be tolerant of others, which will create an understanding between people and give them a better feel of democracy at work.

What are the essential goals of the Council of Europe, which represents not only members of the EU but also other European countries, which are not yet members?

First of all, a short word on the relation between the Council of Europe and the European Union. Both of these organisations have the same courageous vision, striving for greater unity in Europe, based on cultural identity and shared values. We strive for greater unity in the fields of the economy and politics. Integration is the realm of the EU, but you need both of these organisations to work together in harmony over these matters, so I don't see any complications. Nor do I see any jealousy. On the contrary, we need closer cooperation and a strong need for natural partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union. I have already proposed the associated partnership status of the European Union within the Council of Europe.

Have you any further advice for our readers on the eve of Poland's accession to the European Union and for the year ahead?

It is important that we convince the public that preservation of linguistic diversity, and hence, cultural identity, is a worthwhile goal and that they should treat their neighbour's languages with tolerance and respect. In my view, this is an ideal task for the Council of Europe.