Strasbourg, February 2002                                                             DGIV/EDU/LANG (2002) 7

Languages, Diversity, Citizenship:

Policies for Plurilingualism in Europe

“Keeping Europe Multilingual”

A Guide for Language Education Policies

for Linguistic Diversity and Plurilingualism

Executive summary

Language Policy Division


Purpose of the Guide

Europe is multilingual, as are its constituent societies. This is a fundamental characteristic crucial to all social policy in Europe.  Language education policy is therefore an important aspect of social policy and in particular of policies which aim to develop a sense of inclusion and of shared democratic citizenship.

The Council of Europe and its Member States have taken the position that the promotion maintenance of linguistic diversity should be pursued in language education policy.  In addition to mobility, intercomprehension and economic development, there is the important aim of maintaining the European cultural heritage, of which linguistic diversity is a significant constituent, and for which linguistic diversity provides the vital conditions.

Policies for language education should promote the learning acquisition of several languages for each individual, so that Europeans become plurilingual citizens able to interact with other Europeans.

The purpose of the Guide is therefore to consider:

·         the need to formulate language education policies which are coherent with the promotion of social inclusion and the development of democratic citizenship in Europe;

·         how policies of language education can be developed whose outcomes will be in accord with the pursuit maintenance of linguistic diversity in societies and plurilingualism for citizens of Europe.


The Guide has been written for those who influence, formulate and implement language education policies at any level, e.g. individual institution, local government, national education system or international institution.  It is a document not for language specialists but for policy makers.

It presents approaches to the development of policies.  Every Any geographical area is multilingual if its inhabitants speak more than one language.  Every multilingual area therefore needs its own policy for language education.  The Guide sets out approaches to the analysis of multilingualism and the development of policies appropriate to a given area whilst asserting that the aims of the policies should be to promote the concept of linguistic diversity in society and plurilingualism for the individual.


The Guide deals with ‘linguistic diversity’ under two concepts: ‘multilingualism’ and ‘plurilingualism’:

-                      multilingualism’ refers to the presence in a geographical area of more than one ‘variety of language’ i.e. the mode of speaking of a social group whether it is formally recognised as a language or not;

-                      ‘pluringualism’ refers to the repertoire of ‘varieties of language’ which individuals use, and is therefore the opposite of monolingualism; it includes the language variety referred to as ‘mother tongue’ or ‘first language’ and any number of other languages or varieties.

Thus in some multilingual areas some individuals are monolingual and some are plurilingual.

The Guide suggests how language education policies can be developed which enable all Europeans to become plurilingual in ways which are appropriate to the area where they live.

The Guide is concerned with the whole of language education, including education in the ‘mother tongue/first language’ when it is the official and/or national language of the area in question.  It is not concerned only with ‘foreign’, ‘second’ or ‘minority’ languages.

Plurilingualism develops throughout life: individuals may acquire new languages and lose old ones at different points in their lives.  The Guide is therefore concerned with policy not only in schools but also in lifelong learning.

Principles: why plurilingualism?

Language education policies are of major political significance.  Plurilingualism needs to be actively promoted to counter-balance the market forces which tend to lead to linguistic homogenisation.  Plurilingualism provides the conditions for mobility within Europe for leisure and work purposes, for social inclusion of all Europeans and for the creation of a sense of European identity.  Language education policies should therefore enable individuals to be plurilingual, either by developing their existing plurilingualism or by enabling them to develop from monolingualism into plurilingualism.

The principles underlying this position include the following:

-                      language rights are part of human rights;

-                      the exercise of democracy and social inclusion depends on language education policy;

-                      economic opportunities for the individual and the development of human capital in a society depend on language education policy;

-                      individual plurilingualism is a significant influence on the evolution of a European identity;

-                      a common discourse for the discussion and, where appropriate, co-ordination of language education policies is needed.

Content of the Guide

The Guide is divided into three parts:

-                      the first analyses the weaknesses of current language education policy common in European countries (Chapter 1) and explains the principles and recommendations of the Council of Europe (Chapter 2);

-                      the second presents ways of identifying and analysing the factors in a given geographical area as a necessary as a preliminary to developing an appropriate policy for diversity;, it dealsing with non-linguistic factors (Chapter 3) and linguistic factors (Chapter 4);

-                      the third describes the range of technical forms of organisation of language education upon which those developing policies can draw in their implementation (Chapters 5 and 6).