[lg policy] Poliglotti4.eu: Multilingualism observatory ready next year

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 16 14:16:26 UTC 2011

Poliglotti4.eu: Multilingualism observatory ready next year
Published 15 July 2011

By the end of 2012, the EU will have an online observatory for
multilingualism, which will document best practice in implementing
language policies and showcase concrete tools for solving everyday
foreign language communication problems, Uwe Mohr, head of an EU
project called Poliglotti4.eu, told EurActiv in an interview.

Uwe Mohr is project director of Poliglotti4.eu – a project by the
European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) that aims to
set up an online Language Observatory to document best practice
regarding the implementation of multilingualism.

Mohr is also director of the language department at the Goethe Institut Brüssel.

He was speaking to EurActiv's Outi Alapekkala.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

What is the project Poliglotti4.eu about?

The project results form the work and findings of the Civil Society
Platform to promote multilingualism in Europe, established by the
European Commission. That platform has worked for one year and
produced a Policy Paper for the European Commission.

Our platform assembled a variety of representatives from all fields of
civil society and non-formal education: translation, interpretation,
subtitling, media, language learning, social cohesion and social
services, migrants, minority languages, language policy planning, etc.
And we were tasked with developing a policy paper to advise the
European Commission on the new directive that comes out in cooperation
with the member states.

The report, entailing lots of appendices and best practice examples,
has just been finished. In the report’s conclusion the continuation of
the platform is recommended.

The idea was that the policy paper should result in a project – and
that’s where ‘Poliglotti4.eu’ started. So we took up some ideas that
came up in the context of the platform and made a project out of it.
This is a project in the context of the EU’s Lifelong Learning

The main outcome of the project will be an interactive website that
will also be an online linguistic observatory for multilingualism. It
will seek to unite all sorts of information that could be relevant to
someone who is interested in the state of multilingualism in Europe -
not only to the members of that platform but also to other civil
society organisations, as well as to teachers and educators.

The idea is to do some research on certain topics and to present
tools, but also to discuss issues of common interest, to include
interactive elements like Facebook, Twitter and blogging. We will also
have ambassadors for multilingualism with video testimonials.

So the final product of your project is the website?

Yes, it is the main product. But we will also publish brochures and
organise conferences. And we do a lot of lobbying and networking of
course, to increase the impact of the project and to disseminate our

What exactly will be put on the website?

It will host video testimonials by famous people from all walks of
life – cultural and business people, politicians, journalists – who
will explain why the acquisition of languages has helped them in their
career and why they need several languages in their professional and
private life. They will also give their testimonial in different

Hopefully we will have some discussion on Facebook, Twitter and
chatting with other people – it’s open for everybody, of course.

Then we will have research, done as a result of the Civil Society
Platform paper. There is a group of experts doing research via
questionnaires and telephone interviews.

The fields covered in the research are early language learning,
lifelong learning and social community services. The idea is to give
some good examples and show best practices in, for example, hospitals
and police stations, registration and immigration offices, where they
actually have a good language policy.

This is because some of those institutions already have a language
policy, meaning that if you do not speak the language of that country
you still have a chance to communicate - because that’s the main

We have all been in a foreign country and not spoken the language – so
we want to know how you can cope in those situations - are you lost or
can you try with a little bit of English, or are there specific
policies in place and people capable of speaking other languages?

In hospital or at the police, for example, it can be a life-saving
mechanism. And I feel that we are still at the very beginning with all
these things and the Commission is interested in learning about good

How do you define or choose what is a good example?

The big advantage of our project group is the networks we have.
Because our group consists of head organisations and they all have
networks in their countries.

So if we can activate all these people to help and give us advice,
good hints and recommendations, then we can actually reach out to a
lot of people. The idea is to have a big impact and a broad
geographical reach.

You say you will set up an online linguistic observatory for
multilingualism. What exactly does the word ‘observatory’ refer to

It is just a technical word – but it is about presenting the situation
as it is right now and trying to give an overview of the different
aspects and provide some examples of good practice.

Who is the final product aimed at?

It is aimed at teachers, educators, policymakers, civil society
organisations and the general public.

How can teachers benefit from this?

We deal with adult education, lifelong learning and early-language
learning. If you work in this field, we present some good examples on,
for example, when it is good to start foreign language learning and
with how many languages at the same time.

We will also show what sort of experiences others have had on the same issues.

The idea is also to bring people together to discuss – so if you see a
good example you can contact this person or school directly.

How do you cover the social services field?

This is very broad and includes, for example, the police, registration
and immigration offices, hospitals, as well as public transport. Some
misunderstandings can be funny when you are a tourist, but they can
also be dangerous – for example, if you have an accident or similar.

It is a big challenge. Theoretically, it should all already work in a
modern and globalised world - but it doesn’t really. And what do you
do then?

It is a very slow process and the Commission, as well as others, is
very much interested in that, because we will need all this if it is
going to work with the supposedly free exchange of people, services,
goods, etc.

So theoretically it is all possible but then we come to our limits
with the daily routine, because the language is missing.

This is also why we try to give surveys of some good translation and
multilingual tools, which might help you to translate - at least up to
a certain level - simple texts.

There are a lot of things going on in this field. There is Google
Translation, but there are a lot of other things as well. And I think
that this will become more common in the next years – we will all need
it, probably. It is a big field and we are trying to get an idea of
what’s going on there as well.

On our site, we will have links to reference guides and dictionaries,
but also to information about events and conferences dedicated to
multilingualism. There will also be news and publications, a document
library, presentation of research and policy papers. It is meant to be
quite comprehensive.

When are you planning to conclude the project?

It is a two-year project, so we should be done by the end of next year
(2012). And the website will hopefully be on after this summer.

Does your project contribute to the 2012 review of the EU
multilingualism strategy?

The idea is that our project will influence the Commission’s ideas.
Hopefully it will have a certain impact – just like the policy paper
we’ve finished in the framework of the Civil Society Platform.

How do you want your project influence the policy review? How would
you like to shape the EU multilingualism strategy?

We give good examples, show how progress can be made and raise
awareness. There are people who are already convinced of the
importance of multilingualism. But there are still many who do not see
the importance of learning foreign languages, and the Commission is
trying to work on that through many initiatives - and we are trying to
contribute to that.

We can also become a good reference for people who want to find out
what multilingualismall is about.

In the end, we will contribute to shaping the strategy together with
the Business platform for promoting multilingualism and the member

So you are both promoting multilingualism as a policy and seeking
concrete tools for it, to solve communication problems?

Yes. You may speak four languages but you will never speak 24 of them,
so then you need to rely on other tools and try to figure out how to
communicate. English doesn’t always work, like for example in China.

The more global and international we get, the more we have to deal
with cultures that are quite foreign, with languages that we don’t
know, and the more important it becomes to have some sort of tool. In
our project we are trying to concentrate on the non-commercial tools.

Do you have any special message to convey?

I think that it is very important to continue the work. We always
propose goals, but then we need to see where the reality is.

The Commission talks about one main language plus two foreign
languages as a goal. This is set through the Barcelona language
learning targets. But the reality is not yet there and that is a big

Some elites already have this knowledge and speak two foreign
languages reasonably well, but a normal person doesn’t normally have
this capacity yet in almost any country.

Here, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries are a
big exception because people usually speak two or three foreign
languages. But if you look no further than Germany, most people don’t
speak two foreign languages. They might speak English reasonably well,
but that’s it.

Although everybody thinks nowadays that everybody speaks good English,
that is not true. So there is a lot to be done and we should not
expect too much. We should have a lot of patience and we have to try
to keep it realistic.

I don’t think we will ever have a situation where everybody speaks
three foreign languages. Socially disadvantaged groups might, for
example, have problems even with their own language. So how can we
motivate and convince people who are unemployed or have other
existential problems to learn other languages?

But why do we need to convince people to learn foreign languages? I
understand that EU policy starts from the basis that multilingualism
is a good thing. But it is just an EU goal in a paper.

Take, for example, a Turkish immigrant worker in Germany – many of
those don’t even master their own language. The prospects of these
people are very bad. They won’t find a good job in Germany because
they don’t speak German and they will probably end up with some sort
of crime or drug problem, and then people will think that all Turks
are criminals. Prejudices that should have been overcome by now will
be confirmed.

So it is a whole chain of events. If we manage to educate these people
better, we also do a lot for the community and change the attitudes of
people. We need to give everyone the chance to get out of these
disadvantaged situations and try to convince them that language
learning could be good for them. But it is not an easy task and it is
a problem we have more and more in all our countries.

That is also why we are all discussing it. Belgium, for example, is
discussing how to deal with its migrant workers, as they have more and
more foreign people now. So the issue is global and very topical, and
will certainly influence the future of our societies.


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