North by Southwest radio programme dedicated to Language Rich Europe

Great news: Language Rich Europe has been featured on Spain’s North by Southwest radio programme! Please find the audio file of the programme below. It was broadcast on Radio Exterior (Spanish World Service) on Monday 16 July 2012, and will be repeated again next week.

In the programme, Nicolas Jackson from British Council Spain interviews Language Rich Europe’s Project Director Martin Hope and Senior Project Manager Aneta Quraishy as well as Juan Pedro de Basterrechea from Instituto Cervantes, Marta Genís from Universidad Antonio de Nebrija and Xavier Vila from the University of Barcelona.

More about the Madrid launch… and listen to an interview!

Below is an article written by our Language Rich Project manager Aneta Quraishy about the Madrid launch, which took place on 7 June 2012. It also includes a link to an interview for Radio Nacional España 5, Radio Exterior in the program Otros Acentos.

Taking place at the European Commission building in Madrid Lenguas Riqueza del Europa (Language RIch Europe) launched in Spain. Key good news stories for Spain, where research focused on the three cities, Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla, lay in particular within the education domain. In the field of Content Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Spain came out very well positioned in comparison to the other participating 18 countries. Spanish bilingual schools (important to note that these are predominately English/Spanish) are beginning to serve as a model for other countries. You can listen to an interview Marta and I gave on Radio Nacional España 5, Radio Exterior in the program Otros Acentos.

Below are some key messages in Spanish and English:

…la posición de España, a la cabeza de los países analizados en integrar lengua y contenidos en Inglés en la Educación Primaria, por lo que nuestro sistema podría servir de modelo de otros países en el futuro. En Primaria además, España es pionera en vincular las lenguas ofertadas al Marco Común Europeo de Referencia de las Lenguas (MCERL). Según datos de la investigación, se destaca el apoyo del sistema educativo español en materia de idiomas en todos los niveles educativos desde Primaria hasta la Universidad, incluyendo también el respaldo al alumnado inmigrante. También se valoran positivamente iniciativas como la puesta en marcha del Plan Estratégico de Ciudadanía e Integración de 2007-2010 y el Plan Objetivos de la Educación para la década 2010-2020 que abogan el plurilingüismo y el impulso del aprendizaje de idiomas, la modernización e internacionalización de universidades y por un modelo de educación inclusiva, diversa e intercultural. También aparece como aspecto muy positivo el apoyo a las lenguas oficiales y regionales.

Areas for improvement include the fact that albeit European recommendations state that two foreign languages should be taught as compulsory, Spain only makes one language obligatory throughout its schooling system. This is however the reality in many European countries and UK children aged 14+ are not obliged to learn any foreign language for example.

Juan Pedro de Basterrechea, Instituto Cervantes, stressed how important it is not to make sweeping judgements with the study that is after all based only on three Spanish cities and rather that the study should be used to highlight interesting points, and serve as a way of raising the of the importance of multilingualism and language learning. We need to also look to the two regional profiles created of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Marta Genís, Universidad Antonio Nebrija, pointed out that in the Business domain, there is still room for improvement for Spanish companies where language learning is not given as much support as it should. She further highlighted that despite the benefits of subtitling; Spain continues to opt for dubbing both on TV and in the cinema.

Switzerland: ‘there is still progress to be made’

Simon Denoth, representative of Rumantsch TV, second from the left

Switzerland is regarded as a role model for multilingualism by many but as British Council Switzerland Director, Caroline Morrissey wrote in an earlier blog post ‘reality can be quite different, with the four language areas existing well side by side (and mostly ignoring one another) and with little cross-border integration.’

After the Switzerland launch, British Council Communications manager, David Sorrentino and Language Rich Europe Project Co-ordinator, Eilidh MacDonald caught up with Simon Denoth, representative of Rumantsch TV, to reflect on the event and what still needs to be done to improve the multilingual landscape of Switzerland.

Simon, do you have any reflections on the event?

I very much liked that one of the domains included was the media. It was very much centred on education policy but I liked that the media was included… There was a good mix of policy makers, officials, journalists, and teachers. I thought it was a good mix – a community of the ‘linguistically interested.’

What should Language Rich Europe’s role be in Switzerland to improve the linguistic landscape?

It could simply point out that there is still progress to be made. Some of the concrete examples in your draft paper, like subtitling films, (are) one way of doing a bit of linguistic engineering (and) picking up passive knowledge of language at least and the Netherlands and Scandinavia have shown that brilliantly. In Switzerland films are always dubbed, never subtitled…This is one thing that bothers me – people say ‘your shows are very nice, but I would very much like to understand what you are saying.’ But they don’t know, maybe because they don’t tune in from the start, (that you can) just type in 777 to get subtitles. Subtitles are just one thing, obviously.

This is just the beginning of the project. How should it develop to get impact with the future recommendations coming out?

Marketing is going to be important. Simplify it, make it more accessible. The addressees are mainly going to be the policy makers but you could target a broader public if you could…get it out there via the media. They are the multipliers. The British Council may be perceived as an institution there to promote English but it is about best practice – this should be brought out. It is not just about promoting English as the one language everyone should learn. Learn as many languages as possible, one of which might have to be English.

You can read more on the topic ‘Should Switzerland preserve its multilingualism?’ at

Guus Extra: Ukraine is already practising trilingualism

Below is an interview with Guus Extra, Professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He recently gave a series of lectures in the leading Ukrainian universities on the topics of language situation in Europe, multiculturalism, minority languages and other similar issues. The lectures were very successful and received positive feedback from more than 330 participants. Please find a shortened version of the article below (in Ukrainian) and a link to the full article at the end (also in Ukrainian). Professor Guus Extra was interviewed by Maria Fronoschuk.

Гуус Екстра: «Україна вже живе в умовах трилінгвізму»

Чим більше мов знаєш, тим більше шансів знайти себе у цьому великому світі. Але всіх мов не вивчиш. Аби зрозуміти, якими мовами говоритиме світ завтра, «Платформа» зустрілася з професором з Нідерландів, завідувачем кафедри мов і меншин Тілбурзького університету, Гуусом Екстра. Він завітав в Україну в рамках програми British Council «Багатомовна Європа». Пан Гуус Екстра спеціалізується на питаннях мовної адаптації іммігрантських меншин та освіти на національному та європейському рівнях. Користуючись нагодою ми також розпитали професора про його бачення мовної ситуації в Україні.

Як вирішувати проблеми, які виникають у багатомовних країнах?

В рамках свого візиту в Україну я провів лекцію для студентів Національного лінгвістичного університету. Я вирішив присвятити її висвітленню ідеї трилігнвізму, так званої «трилінгвістичної формули», яку сьогодні активно просуває Європейська Комісія. Що це таке? Як, власне, зрозуміло з назви, вона полягає у створенні лінгвістичної системи, у якій функціонувало б три мови. Якщо ми говоримо про Європейський Союз, то ця ідея втілюється таким чином. Першою, але, що важливо, не домінантною, є мова країни, в якій ви живете. Тут все виглядає дуже просто, але насправді воно таким не є. Річ у тім, що з глобалізацію значного масштабу набула і міграція. Тобто сьогодні для більшості (близько 60%) людей державна мова фактично є вже другою після рідної. Ця тенденція актуальна для усієї Західної Європи. Другою є мова «інтернаціонального престижу». Зрозуміло, що Комісія, намагаючись бути толерантною, відкрито не каже, що це англійська. Зроби вона так, наприклад, Франція одразу образилась би. Але всі ми розуміємо реальний стан речей. Навіть у початковій школі діти обов’язково вивчають англійську. І нарешті третя мова – «мова персональної адаптації». Вона, перш за все, актуальна для емігрантів. Це може бути турецька, арабська, сомалі та будь-яка інша мова країни, з якої приїхали люди. Ця формула є універсальною і може застосовуватися будь-де.

Як ви можете прокоментувати мовну ситуацію в Україні?

Україна, на мою думку, не є винятком із загальносвітових тенденцій. Після коректної оцінки ситуації, стає зрозуміло, що ви вже застосовуєте цю трилінгвістичну формулу. Тобто маєте свою власну українську мову як державну та офіційну, так само використовуєте англійську як мову «престижу», а домінантна національна меншина спілкується російською. І, на перший погляд, це абсолютно нормально. Наскільки я знаю, в Україні налічується близько 13 мов національних меншин. Але ваша проблема в тому, що кількість російськомовного населення значно перевищує кількість носіїв інших мов. Цим Україна чимось нагадує мені Литву. Там, як ви знаєте, російська довгий час була мовою «престижу» та домінувала над національною. Але зараз пріоритети змінилися, і тим, хто послуговувався лише російською, доводиться вчити державну мову. У випадку України – це цілковито політичне питання. І вирішувати його слід так само на політичному рівні.

Наскільки я зрозумів, в вашій країні зараз панівною патріотичною ідеєю є збереження тільки однієї державної мови – української. Жодних «українська + російська». Зараз ви намагаєтеся направляти людей, агітувати їх спілкуватися українською, робити так, щоб саме вона була мовою науки, політики тощо. Але треба пам’ятати, що мови національних меншин також потрібно підтримувати, хоча б на регіональному рівні. Маємо схожу ситуацію в Нідерландах. І в нас вона вирішується просто: представники національних меншин продовжують спілкуватися своєю мовою, можуть вільно робити це, але мусять знати і державну.

Повний текст інтервю можна знайти на сайті


Aleksandra uit Polen is veeltalig – video

My name is Aleksandra and I am a Project Manager of the Language Rich Europe project in the Netherlands. On behalf of the Language Rich Europe team I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year! Maybe you will start learning a new language or improve your skills this year? I speak several languages myself and was asked by the Dutch Language Union to talk about my experiences related to it. Dutch Language Union is an organization which takes care of the Dutch language issues. Every year one topic is put into spotlight. This year it happens to be… multilingualism. You can watch the video below. I also put a few phrases in each language I speak with some observations and tips related to languages and language learning.

What are your experiences? Feel free to share!

Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku! Moja przygoda z językami zaczęła się w Polsce, skąd pochodzę. Moim językiem ojczystym jest język polski. Przez obcokrajowców uważany za język “szeleszczący” (uwielbiam to słowo – wspaniała polska onomatopeja!), polski zawiera różnorodne dzwięki, co niewątpliwie ułatwia naukę innych języków… Można powiedzieć, że jestem szczęściarą pod tym względem.

Happy New Year! My parents started to teach me English as soon as I could read. I will never forget the excitement of deciphering all the strange words, which felt like discovering mysterious texts written in a secret code. In addition, I was born in a country, which was still communist, behind the (heavy) iron curtain, where English was perceived as an “imperialistic” language and a carrier of information potentially threatening the system. It made the whole experience even more exciting and fun.

с Новым Годом! Когда я пошла в начальную школу, я начала изучать русский язык. У меня не было никакого другого  выбора – в Польше был обязательным в то время. Поэтому многим людей не понравилось этот язык, но я всегда думала, что это красивый и мелодичный язык. Кроме того, это было мое первое столкновение с различным алфавитом, чем латинский, и это был важный момент у меня, в которым я открыла новые горизонты.

Bonne Année! Étant polonaise, j’ai une inclinaison naturelle pour le français (il y avait des nombreuses liaisons, parfois même dangereuses, entre l’histoire polonaise et française). J’ai commencé un cursus du français et je suis allée pour mon premier échange en France, dans une belle petite ville en Corrèze, Uzerche. Avec mon français de base à cette époque, j’ai découvert le pouvoir et la joie d’improvisation en transformant les mots d’autres langues.

Ein glückliches neues Jahr! Während meines Studiums in Frankreich wollte ich mein Deutsch verbessern. Ich ging nach Wien für Erasmus, der Austausch von Studierenden in Europa. Diese Erfahrung war sehr interessant – ich konnte die Unterschiede zwischen die Sprache in Deutschland und Österreich  beobachten und erleben. Eine Sprache kann als eine Weise der Verständigung, gebunden an die Koordinaten einer bestimmten Sprachgemeinschaft gesehen werden.

Buon Anno! Durante il mio soggiorno Erasmus a Vienna non parlavo tanto tedesco, inglese o francese, solo… italiano. C’erano tanti italiani a Vienna, che non ci potevo credere. Prima di arrivare nella capitale austriaca sapevo una sola frase in Italiano: “La principessa vuole una bicicletta” del film “La vita è bella”. La seconda frase era “Dimmi che ce l’hai” imparata a Vienna giocando a “Scopa”, un famoso gioco di carte italiano. E il resto è la storia di praticare e giocare per imparare.

¡Feliz año! Hace tres años, fui a Barcelona para una sesión de los estudios en gestión cultural internacional de la Universidad de Barcelona. Era un momento perfecto para practicar mi español. Un año más tarde, me fui en América Central, a Panamá. Las aventuras diferentes durante mi viaje allí, tal como subir un volcán en la noche, y después también en Ecuador y Perú, eran maravillosas. Lo que puedo decir es que sin saber hablar español, mi viaje y sobre todo el contacto con la gente no habría sido el mismo. 

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! Al vanaf vijf jaren woon ik in Amsterdam met een klein intermezzo in Londen. De beide steden zijn echte hoofdsteden van meertaligheid. Er zijn mensen die uit de gehele wereld hier komen. Meer weten? Kijk naar de video!

Interview with Deividas Jakavičius, Second Prize Winner in Languages Speak Up! competition

We were not planning on blogging again in 2011, but we are such big fans of the runner up of our Languages Speak Up! competition that we could not resist sharing this with you. Partnerships and Projects Manager for British Council Lithuania, Vilma Backiute, met with Devidas Jakačius to discuss his entry and what languages mean to him. If you have not already viewed his video, please do so and we will see you all in 2012!

On 15 December I met Deividas Jakavičius, the Second Prize Winner in the Languages Speak Up! video competition, at Simonas Daukantas Gymnasium in Vilnius. I went to his school to hand in the award, and ended up joining in singing Christmas songs in English with over 100 students. That was a pre-Christmas event concert for the 10th-grade students, where Deividas worked on the back stage assisting the singers with music background. Deividas is in his last year at the school and is already a school celebrity. He is a founder of a school band and known as a member of Vilnius band Funk Clock. He also creates lyrics and music. Deividas’s achievement in the video competition was not news to the school community. They had it out in the school e-news on November 24. I discovered that Deividas has to thank his friend Adomas Gurstis who helped him out in the creative process. Thus, as an impromptu thank-you gift Adomas got a traditional British Christmas cake. Well done to both :-) Congratulations! You can watch the interview with Deividas and Adomas here:



Expert: multilingualism index to illustrate the current situation in Europe

Kutlay Yagmur, associate professor at Tilburg University and one of our Language Rich Europe data analysis experts, is featured by the Mercator Research Centre as their “Expert in the Spotlight” for September. In the article Kutlay discusses his background, the challenges he faces at work and his latest project… Language Rich Europe!

Together with British Council and 20 European institutions, including Mercator Research Centre (Fryske Akademy), we have been developing a multilingualism index to illustrate the current situation in Europe…. We will basically compare policies and practices against European Commission and Council of Europe standards in education, public services and spaces, business, media, and national language diversity documents and databases. We hope to raise awareness by presenting hard core evidence from 20 countries.

You can read the article in full on Mercator’s website.


Expert: Languages ‘tool for more business’

Martin Hope, Director of the Language Rich Europe project, spoke to Outi Alapekkala at EurActiv in an interview about the project and more specifically about language and businesses. Hope also mentions the controversy raised by Language Rich Europe and the importance for businesses of hiring multilingual staff.

A fantastic language policy for business is where languages are supported and encouraged.

English is a tool, but it only goes part of the way towards creating intercultural understanding and complete relationship building. You have to learn each other’s language – not only English.

You can read the interview on EurActiv’s page.

Interview: Speaking Welsh, Living in Brussels

Stefanie Poulton moved to Brussels from North Wales in 2009. Today she works in British Council Brussels as PA to Regional Director EU. She shares her views about multilingualism and having become “Welsh Stef” in Brussels for our blog. Interview with Canan Marasligil.


Are you originally from Wales?
I was born in Chester, England and have two English Parents; my Mother is from Sheffield and my Father from Manchester. They moved to Wales the day before I was born…

The actual day before you were born?

Are they still in Wales?
Yes, they’re still living there today.

Did you learn Welsh at school?
I attended the local primary school where we were taught Welsh from very early on. During my secondary education the Welsh Assembly Government amended the curriculum, making Welsh a compulsory subject to be sat at GCSE level, when prior to this pupils had the option to discontinue it as a subject if desired at 14. I therefore studied it until I was 16.

Did you like studying Welsh?
At the time it wasn’t something I had wanted to necessarily study, as I felt learning another, more widely spoken language such as French or Spanish would be more beneficial. In hindsight, having grown up in Wales I now recognise the importance of language learning in relation to the shaping of identity and culture and although my Welsh is pretty basic and something which I am unlikely to use again, I think learning it and growing up in Wales has impacted on me in more ways than I thought; Now in Brussels I am referred to as ‘Welsh Stef’ – something I don’t necessarily consider myself to be!

How did learning Welsh affect who your cultural identity?
While I was growing up, learning Welsh always felt a bit alien to me.  I knew that because I lived in Wales, in school we were expected to learn it.  However with it being a language you would rarely hear being spoken and not coming from a Welsh background and mixing with friends who were in a similar position to me, it often led to some confusion and perhaps some resentment to it.  The year I was choosing my options for my GCSE’s is when the Welsh Assembly Government made learning Welsh compulsory across the curriculum until the age of 16.  I don’t think this contributed to myself having any feelings of being Welsh, but perhaps the opposite!  I suppose it began to change when I left Wales for University and then moving to Belgium. As soon as you mention where you come from people are very interested in whether you can speak Welsh or not, it is usually one of the first questions! And then I feel quite proud to answer that I learnt it at school and am able to explain a bit about the language, its uses in Wales – how and where it is spoken and its history and origin, which people do seem interested in, given its reputation of a ‘dying’ language.

What place does Welsh have in your personal and professional lives today? Today, apart from the name I have inherited, Welsh plays little part in personal and professional life.  Most of my friends, even if they were from Welsh speaking families have left Wales and when I return it is to visit my Parents.  I have definitely noticed an increase in the about of Welsh visible when I go back, on sign posts, in shops and on literature in my Parents house which get’s posted through the door and do feel proud that I can understand it where as perhaps the previous generation to me would not!

Do you think Welsh helps you learning other languages or opening up to other languages?
I’m not sure if learning Welsh made me want to learn other languages.  I think at the time because it felt forced upon me and because I struggled to contextualise it, it made language learning feel like a chore and therefore I didn’t appreciate its importance.  However today, this has of course changed and living in Brussels where there are so many languages and dialects being spoken around you, I feel pleased to have studied one other than my mother tongue, even if it can’t be used!


Stefanie Poulton works in the Brussels office as PA to Regional Director EU; Rosemary Hilhorst OBE. Stefanie moved to Brussels in 2009 from North Wales to work at the European Parliament as Parliamentary Assistant to a British MEP. Although a varied role, Stefanie particularly enjoyed the PA element to the position and was keen to further her career working in an international environment in this area. Having gained a Master’s Degree in Creative and Cultural Management from the University of Chester before moving to Belgium, the work of the British Council complements her personal interest in intercultural dialogue and cultural management.


“What do they know of English, those who only English know?”

We at the British Council are currently involved in at least two projects on the theme of multilingualism. One is Language Rich Europe – you’re probably reading this post on the Language Rich Europe project blog right now – and the second is, which we’re working on in collaboration with our EUNIC colleagues (see Ulla and Julia’s piece last week).  Both projects have received funding from the European Commission.

For these two multilingualism projects, we are recruiting a series of ‘Language Ambassadors’, i.e. people from all walks of life who believe in the benefits of learning other languages and are prepared to say so on camera. They introduce themselves,  answer a series of questions about how they use languages in their work and social lives and tell us about a time when knowing another language came in handy. We’ve had tales involving plain-clothes policemen in Kazakhstan, lobbying in Esperanto for the recognition of Irish as an official language of the EU, and lessons for life in Jamaican patois.

I love making videos and volunteered to film and edit as many language ambassadors as possible to serve both projects (by the way, if you think you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, send me an e-mail). Examples of Language Ambassadors so far include a Belgian multilingual reggae artist (with tattoos on his head), the deputy major of London (no visible tattoos), and Seán Ó Riain, an Irish diplomat who speaks eight languages fluently including Irish, Welsh and, yes, Esperanto.

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, Esperanto conjures up images of academic recluses, possibly also shortwave radio enthusiasts, who only ever have the chance to meet other like-minded individuals, and converse with them in this artificial language, at Esperanto Club conventions. I won’t go as far as to say “Well, nothing could be further from the truth” but I will say that since interviewing and editing our Language Ambassador Seán I have drastically revised my opinion.  I also learned a lot in the process.

Five interesting things I didn’t know about Esperanto:

  1. It’s the only language that has a time and place of birth (1887,Bialystok) and is one year younger than Coca-Cola (1886).
  2. It was created by Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, a Belarusian-Jewish ophthalmologist.
  3. At the time, people in Bialystock (back then part of the Russian Empire) spoke Russian, Polish, German, Yiddish, Belarusian. According to Zamenhof, each group “spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies” and he wanted to create a neutral language of communication.
  4. Critics have said that due to its very strong European nature it cannot be considered a world language. However, the grammatical structure is very close to Chinese (although Zamenhof probably could not have known this).
  5. It’s very easy to learn: 3 years of studying French = 1 year of Esperanto.

And perhaps even more interesting were Seán’s arguments in favour of promoting Esperanto in schools (featured in this post). He reckons that of the people who take languages in school, a high proportion do not progress to a level where they feel that they are successful. And this, he thinks, puts them off learning other languages. With short Esperanto courses (Seán said he was challenged by an Australian Ambassador to learn it from a book in 3 months and succeeded) students can quickly get to grips with a foreign language, know what it’s like to be successful, and move onto a more complex language. Also, throughout the process they’ll learn lessons on grammar and pronunciation which will benefit further language learning.

As Seán sees it, learning another language, any language, is fun, and it gives you a better grasp of your mother tongue. He likes to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling’s “What do they know ofEngland, who only England know?” with “What do they know of English, who only English know?” In my case I know that I only learned about language tenses and language parts when I learned Spanish, so I tend to agree.

All Language Ambassador videos will be available soon on the and Language Rich Europe websites – until then I’d love to hear your thoughts on Esperanto, learning multiple languages, and whether you yourself would like to be a language ambassador. And if you are a shortwave radio enthusiast, you’re also invited to come forward and defend yourself!

Jonathan Brennan (Aptalops).

Meeting of Esperanto speakers in Huesco, Spain (1920)

Meeting of Esperanto speakers in Huesco, Spain (1920)