Friday, December 9, 2011

The Importance of M+2 in the EU and Beyond

by Alexandra Lively

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” - Charlemagne

On November 4, Zsuzsanna Fagyal, a Professor in French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke on “Implementing M+2: Multilingual Education in the EU.” In a union comprised of 27 member states, 3 candidate states, 501 million people, 23 official state languages, over 175 nationalities, and a nearly fully connected land-based transportation network, it is very hard to accept an argument that would refute the importance of multilingualism. Multilingualism provides benefits politically, professionally, and personally.

For languages in the EU, French holds a very important position as it is frequently used in the European Court of Justice and is a working language in the European Commission. However, French is just one of 23 official languages and as Fagyal mentioned, the co-existence of different language communities in one geographical area should be continually recognized. The EU’s stance on multilingualism is that it is “a value for intercultural dialogue, social cohesion and prosperity.” 

However, this can prove difficult with so many languages. This was recently joked about on the television show Saturday Night Live where the unanimous vote of 17 countries was commented on:

I can't even get three friends to agree on a restaurant. Now imagine if we each spoke a different language and our grandparents killed each other in World War II… Belgium has two languages and it's the size of a Midwestern college campus.

To watch the full video, see below or click here: A Closer Look at Europe

One should not look at the comments on language as a deterrent to multilingualism, but rather a challenge to work toward more effective integration of multilingualism in all aspects of European culture. Also, the integration of multilingualism must expand beyond just the 23 official EU languages.

On a personal level, research shows there are many benefits associated with learning new languages. These can include more efficient thinking and problem solving, learning more rapidly, being more efficient communicators, dealing better with distractions, developing a greater vocabulary, having better memory and spatial ability, in addition to enhancing many other cognitive functions. This does not even touch on the social and employment advantages that would be offered to individuals who are multilingual. There is also the benefit of appreciating other cultures and being able to interact more when visiting other countries.

The benefits of multilingualism expand beyond merely knowing how to ask where the bathroom is or to order off of a menu. Multilingualism has the opportunity to enhance intercultural dialogue and social cohesion, to create a valuing of other languages, to overcome language barriers, and to enhance competitiveness and employability. These benefits need to be constantly reiterated in the classroom and beyond so that the necessity of multilingualism does not lose its significance in the local and global context.

Alexandra Lively is a first-year MA student in European Union Studies and an EU Center FLAS fellow. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Advertising at UIUC, with a double minor in Business and Communications. She graduated with High Honors and as an Edmund J. James Scholar. Her research interests include telecommunications, consumerism and trade within the EU. 


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