Multilingualism-another reason to stay in EU

Labour Party

Later today I will speak at an event about about the importance of multilingualism, and higher education.

I work for an institution which, as many of you will be aware, is required by law to speak 24 different languages. I represent a city which prides itself on both multiculturalism and multilingualism. So I have some idea of just how important languages are, the opportunities they create- jobs, experiences and the invaluable contribution to lifelong learning they create.

But I am concerned about what will happen to language education following the referendum. If on June 23rd Britain votes to leave the European Union, it seriously jeopardise language education.

If we cut ourselves from the continent, then we effectively prevent future generations from pursuing careers and enjoying experiences which will be accessible to the remaining member states.

And what message will it send to young people? The incentive to actively learn another language will significantly diminish.

The single market undoubtedly opens huge opportunities, but in order to thrive within that environment, to take advantage of what it offers or to set up a business, then language skills are an essential part in determining that success.

British citizens still need to acknowledge that the ‘everyone speaks English’ phenomenon is outdated.

We must embrace the so called ‘Barcelona Objective’ – an ambitious plan whereby all European school children should be able to communicate effectively in two languages in addition to their mother tongue.

But if we vote to leave the European Union, then we risk further reducing those important learning opportunities for future generations and their ability to be competent in other languages.

The European Commission has created several learning portals which allow young people to expand their horizons by travelling abroad for a few months and taking part in specific learning programmes. Such programmes are of course available to British students and we should encourage them to participate.

Learning languages is just one reason why we should vote to stay in the European Union on June 23rd. The possibilities offered as a result of embracing multiculturalism and multilingualism are endless, exciting and offer a real economic return for the country. We shouldn’t throw away the opportunities created and offered by the European Union.

Monolingual Britain needs to change says European Commissioner

Labour Party


Many, probably the majority, of Britons speak only English and those who may have learnt foreign languages at school are not able to communicate with any proficiency in anything other than English.  We, of course, all know this, and I for one think it’s a real shame.  Not only do we miss out by not gaining knowledge of other countries and cultures, but we also find our job opportunities restricted.  Free movement of people across the EU is not really free to those who do not speak other European languages and do not have the facility for learning another one which may be gained by achieving fluency in something other than your own mother tongue. 

I do, in fact, have personal experience of this.  Once elected to the European Parliament I thought it would be a good idea to get my ‘O’ level French up to a reasonable standard, partly because it’s useful to speak French in this environment and also because I really think that if you live in another country, even if only for part of the time, you ought to make an effort with their languauge.  It’s been a struggle, and after 10 years I think I’m now getting there in that I’ve done media interviews in French and am able to read newspapers and documents.  Given the amount of time and graft it’s taken at my time of life, I sincerely wish I’d leant French better at school and got to the standard many of my counterparts from other European countries have reached in English, ie total and effortless fluency.

I was not surprised, therefore, when the European Commissioner for Multilingualism, Leonard Orban, talked at the culture Committee today about the monolingualism of the British.  We are far from reaching the EU target of everyone learning two foreign languages plus their mother tongue.  The only ray of hope is the Labour Government’s commitment to introduce foreign language teaching in primary school.  Please let’s build on this and give the next generation greater scope for work outside the English speaking world, extensive though that may be.

However, the Brits were praised on our approach to minority ethnic languages, as spoken in particular by immigrant communities.  In my contribution to Mr Orban, I mentioned that I had been a governor of an inner London school where there were 39 mother tongue languages spoken (Deptford Park Primary School in Lewisham Borough).  He replied by saying he had visited a school in the UK with 100 and was very impressed with the model of community integration and cohesion he saw.  This is, of course, excellent news and I hope the British example will be recognised across Europe.