Today is the European Day of Languages. It was proclaimed by the Council of Europe at the end of the European Year of Languages and has been celebrated ever since (2001).
There are about 225 languages indigenous to Europe. However, nearly half of EU citizens do not speak a language other than their mother tongue (EU, 2006). With a growing population of immigrants and refugees, European cities have become even more multilingual. For example, in London about 300 languages are spoken.
The European Union has now set a target for children to learn at least two foreign languages from an early age, both to enhance intercultural understanding and to improve the European economy.
The European Day of Languages
In that context, the aim of the European Day of Languages is to encourage language learning, specifically, to
- highlight the importance of language learning and diversify the range of languages learned,
- promote the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe,
- encourage lifelong language learning in and out of school.
People are encouraged to study a new language, or to take special pride in their existing language skills. There is also emphasis on learning a language other than English. Events are organized for children, on TV and radio programs, and in language classes and conferences.
A Day of Languages for the US?
The US has a linguistic diversity similar to Europe’s. It’s not a trivial task to count how many languages are spoken in any region, but it’s clear that there are well over 300 languages spoken in the US (Ryan, 2013), including at least 134 indigenous languages and many more spoken by more recent immigrants, such as the English.
Shouldn’t the US, or perhaps, North America, also have a Day of Languages? As in Europe, it would be good for the economy. It could help remind us all of the wonderful resource in our rich linguistic and cultural diversity. And, most importantly, it might also help us be less prone to lump people in categories of “the other.”
I have to add that it would be nice to have September 26 as a national holiday.
European Union (2006, February). Europeans and their Languages Special Eurobarometer 243.
Ryan, Camille (2013, August). Language use in the United States: 2011. American Community Survey Report.