Document 1259

Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 01-113 European Year of Languages, 2001

Author(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

Copyright holder(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body: © Scottish Parliamentary copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Queen's Printer for Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.


Research Note RN 01/113
4 December 2001



This paper summarises the objectives of the Council of Europe and the European Commission as co-sponsors of the European Year of Languages, outlines the activities and events which have been supported in Scotland and summarises the content of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The objectives of the Millennium Schools project are outlined prior to the provision of a range of internet sources where further information can be obtained.

A member’s debate on the European Year of Languages, 2001 and British Sign Language is scheduled in the name of Sandra White for Wednesday 5th December.

The motion for the debate is:

S1M-2175# Ms Sandra White: European Year of Languages 2001 & BSL—
That the Parliament believes that in 2001, the European Year of Languages, the Scottish Executive should take forward the lessons of the Millennium Project 2000 which taught the basics of British Sign Language (BSL) and Deaf Awareness to schoolchildren; invites the Scottish Executive to investigate the introduction of BSL to the school curriculum, and further believes that Her Majesty’s Government should give official recognition to BSL under the terms of the European Charter on Minority Languages.


The European Year of Languages (EYL) 2001 is an event which aims to ‘celebrate linguistic diversity and promote plurilingualism’. The ‘European Year of Languages’ has been jointly organised by the European Union and the Council of Europe whilst also having the support of UNESCO. The main outcomes resulting from the EYL have been a series of events across the European Union emphasising the opportunities for people of all ages to learn and use languages. In particular, encouragement to learn new languages as well as improving upon existing skills has been a major feature of the year. Within Scotland, events and activities have been co-ordinated by the Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching based at Stirling University.

The aims of the Council of Europe (1) for the European Year of Languages have to been to:

• Increase awareness of Europe’s linguistic heritage and openness to different languages and cultures as a source of mutual enrichment to be protected and promoted in European societies;
• To motivate European citizens to develop plurilingualism, that is, to achieve a degree of communicative ability in a number of languages, including those less widely used and taught, for improved mutual understanding, closer co-operation and active participation in European democratic processes.
• To encourage and support lifelong language learning for personal development and so that all European citizens can acquire the language competences necessary to respond to economic, social and cultural changes in society.

The Council of Europe has developed projects under the European Year of Languages which have covered 47 states whilst the Council of Europe has also engaged with UNESCO in order to spread involvement to as wide a range of countries as possible. The Council of Europe appointed a European Steering Group which is responsible for the planning and implementation of the Year with each member state involved having appointed a representative with responsibility for co-ordinating activities within their particular country. In the United Kingdom, the responsible authority was ‘The Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research’ (CILT) based in London.

The European Union formally agreed to support the European Year of Languages in July 2000 (OJL L232/1 – Decision No. 1934/2000/EC). The European Commission has also set a number of objectives (2) for the Year which are similar to, if somewhat more detailed, than those of the Council of Europe. These are to:

• Raise awareness of the richness of linguistic and cultural diversity within the European Union and the value in terms of civilisation and culture embodied therein, acknowledging the principle that all languages must be recognised to have equal cultural value and dignity;
• Encourage multiculturalism;
• Bring to the notice of the widest possible public the advantages of competencies in several languages, as a key element in the personal and professional development of individuals (including in finding one’s first job), in intercultural understanding, in making full use of the rights conferred by citizenship of the Union and in enhancing the economic and social potential of enterprises and society as a whole. The target public referred to above shall include, among others: pupils and students, parents, workers, job seekers, the speakers of certain languages, the inhabitants of border areas, the peripheral regions, cultural bodies, deprived social groups, migrants etc.
• Encourage the lifelong learning of languages, where appropriate, starting at preschool and primary school age and related skills involving the use of languages for specific purposes, particularly in a professional context by all persons residing in the Member States, whatever their age, background, social situation or previous educational experiences and achievements;
• Collect and disseminate information about the teaching and learning of languages, and about skills, methods (especially innovative methods) and tools, including those developed within other Community measures and initiatives, which assist that teaching and learning including those that are developed in the framework of other Community measures and initiatives and / or facilitate communication between users of different languages.

The European Commission allocated a budget of €8million (roughly £5 million) to support projects from across the European Union which support activities which will enable the Commission to make progress against the objectives outlined above. The proportion of financial support available to individual projects varied by the type of activity being undertaken (with up to 100% financial assistance being available).


Within Scotland, activities supported under the European Year of Languages banner have been co-ordinated by Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching (CILT) based within Stirling University. In addition, Scottish CILT has established a committee to help plan events across the country. The organisational membership of this Committee is as follows:

• Central Bureau for International Education and Training
• Centre for Education on Racial Equality in Scotland
• Cultural Organisations and Local Authority Language Advisers
• Community Learning Scotland
• Comunn na Gaidhlig
• Dundee City Council
• European Bureau of Lesser Used Languages
• European Commission Representation in Scotland
• Further Education Network – Modern Languages
• Goethe Institute
• Highland Council
• HM Inspectorate
• Italian Consulate Learning and Teaching Scotland
• L’Institut Francais
• The Scots Language Resource Centre
• The Scottish Association for Language Teaching
• Scottish Council Development and Industry
• Scottish Executive Education Department
• The Scottish National Dictionary Association
• Scottish University Council on Modern Languages
• Language Bank
• British Deaf Association

The two main events of the European Year of Languages have been the European wide ‘Adult Language Learners Week’ (7th to 13th May) and the European Day of Languages on the 26th September. Table One provides a summary of the principal activities / events to be supported under the European Year of Languages, 2001. Further information can be obtained from and from However, it is important to note that only one event in Scotland received support in the form of funding from the European Commission (i.e. from the €8 million available under the European Year of Languages). This was a language and culture fair on the theme of ‘languages in the global economy’ which was hosted by Glenrothes College and Glenco Development Systems. This event is highlighted in bold in Table One.

European Year of Languages, 2001 – Events / Activities supported in Scotland

[NOTE: Table here in original]


The ‘European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages’ is a Council of Europe (CoE) Treaty that was agreed to as a CoE Treaty in November 1992. The United Kingdom signed up to the Treaty in March 2000 and the Treaty came into force in July 2001. The Treaty aims to recognise, protect and promote regional or minority languages. A regional or minority language is defined (3) as languages that are:

“traditionally used within a given territory of a State by nationals of that State who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the State’s population and, the language is different from the official language(s) of that State. It does not include either dialects of the official language(s) of the State or the language of migrants. ‘Territory in which the regional or minority language is used’ means the geographical area in which the said language is the mode of expression of a number of people justifying the adoption of the various protective and promotional measures provided for in this Charter. ‘Non-territorial languages’ means languages used by nationals of the State which differ from the language or languages used by the rest of the State’s population but which, although traditionally used within the territory of the State, cannot be identified with a particular area thereof”.

The Council of Europe’s key decision-making body is the ‘Committee of Ministers’ which consists of the Foreign Ministers (or their Permanent Representatives to the CoE) of the 43 Member States which comprise the Council of Europe. The CoE also has a Parliamentary Assembly which provides a ‘deliberative’ function to the Committee of Ministers. In addition, the ‘Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe’ is a consultative body to the CoE. Any attempt to amend a Council of Europe Charter or Treaty will need to take account of each of these arenas with any amendment ultimately requiring the assent of the Committee of Ministers.

In total, over 60 indigenous regional or minority language communities can be identified across the European Union with Gaelic representing an example of a regional / minority language within Scotland which would be recognised under the Charter. The European Commission has undertaken a detailed study of the regional and minority language communities of the European Union which is published within the Euromosaic report (4). The Charter does not draw any direct reference to ‘sign language’ as a minority language.


The Millennium Schools Project, which is now termed the ‘Schools British Sign Language Project’, is an innovative project developed by ‘Deaf Connections’ which involves the teaching of sign language to school children in Scotland. To date, the project has focussed upon teaching sign language to Primary Seven and First and Second year secondary school pupils within Glasgow and surrounding areas. At present, the project receives financial assistance via the Community Fund (previously the National Lottery Charities Board). There are a range of sign language programme options available to individual schools ranging from a one hour introduction meeting to a ten week course. Classes are held at a time suitable to the school and are taught by a Qualified Deaf tutor. Relevant visual teaching materials are provided during the classes whilst the teaching also incorporates the use of interactive CD-ROMs, videos and a wide selection of books. The ultimate aim of the project is for British Sign Language to be taught to ev ery school child in Scotland, and recognised as a modern language in schools in which qualifications could be obtained, as part of a strategy to enhance the quality of life of deaf people in Scotland.


For further information regarding the European Year of Languages (2001), the following web-sites provide additional information:

EU European Year of Languages web-site:
UK European Year of Languages web-site:
Scottish CILT web-site:
Council of Europe:
European Commission:
BBC web-site:
Euromosaic report:
Charter of Fundamental Rights:
Council of Europe Treaties (including the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages)
Royal National Institute for the Deaf

Research Notes are compiled for the benefit of Members of Parliament and their personal staff. Authors are available to discuss the contents of these papers with Members and their staff but cannot advise members of the general public.

1 Source:
2 Source:
3 Article One of the ‘European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages’.
4 A link to the Euromosaic report can be found at
5 The information in this section derives from personal communication between SPICe and Deaf Connections (the project sponsor for the ‘Millennium Project’ / ‘Schools British Sign Language Project’).

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The SCOTS Project and the University of Glasgow do not necessarily endorse, support or recommend the views expressed in this document.

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Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 01-113 European Year of Languages, 2001


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