Members' Research Service By / March 8, 2016

Language learning and teaching

Written by Diana Taicaite-Smerauskiene, The European Commission is very keen to promote language learning and linguistic diversity across Europe so as to…

© Nenov Brothers/Fotolia

Written by Diana Taicaite-Smerauskiene,

Language learning and teaching
© Nenov Brothers/Fotolia

The European Commission is very keen to promote language learning and linguistic diversity across Europe so as to improve basic language skills. It is working with national governments to meet an ambitious goal: enabling citizens to communicate in 2 languages other than their mother tongue . This ” Barcelona objective ” was agreed in 2002 by the EU’s heads of state and government.

Through Erasmus+ and some other programmes the EU supports language learning because: a. better language skills enable more people to study and/or work abroad, improve their job prospects and enhance their career opportunities; b. speaking other languages helps people from different cultures understand one another – essential in a multilingual, multicultural Europe; c. to trade effectively across Europe, businesses need multilingual staff; d. the language industry – translation and interpretation, language teaching, language technologies, etc. – is among the fastest growing areas of the economy.

The first European survey on language competences (ESLC) in 2012 revealed that language competences provided by educational systems still needed to be significantly improved. The ESLC results showed an overall low level of competences in both first and second foreign languages tested. The level of independent user (B1+B2) was achieved by only 42% of tested students in the first foreign language and by only 25% in the second foreign language. Moreover, a large number of pupils did not even achieve the level of a basic user: 14% for the first and 20% for the second foreign language.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) serves as a basis for testing young people’s language skills. This tool was designed by the Council of Europe to provide a transparent, coherent and comprehensive basis for the elaboration of language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines, the design of teaching and learning materials, and the assessment of foreign language proficiency. The CEFR describes foreign language proficiency at six levels: A1 and A2, B1 and B2, C1 and C2. It also defines three ‘plus’ levels (A2+, B1+, B2+). A 2002 Council Resolution recommended the use of this instrument in setting up systems of validation of language competences.

This keysource compiles a selection of resources on languages in education, learning and teaching initiatives in the EU.

Contents :  1 – Languages in education, language learning initiatives in the EU, 2 – Benefits of language learning, 3 – Language teaching, 4 – Good practices, 5 – Statistics

Languages in education, language learning initiatives in the EU

EU initiatives

In the 2014 Council Conclusions on multilingualism and the development of language competences , the EU countries made a strong commitment to improving the efficiency of language teaching in schools.

The Online Linguistic Support (OLS) has been designed to assist Erasmus+ participants in improving their knowledge of the language in which they will work, study or volunteer abroad so that they can make the most out of this experience.

European Language Label

The European Language Label (ELL) is an award encouraging new initiatives in the field of teaching and learning languages, the rewarding of new techniques in language teaching, and spreading the knowledge of languages’ existence, thereby promoting good practice. Awarded ELLs can be consulted in the projects database .


Languages in Secondary Education: An Overview of National Tests in Europe 2014-15 / EACEA, 2015, 64 p. The analysis covers aspects such as the increasing importance of national tests in languages, the objectives of the tests, the skills tested, as well as the means developed by countries aiming at ensuring consistent and reliable scoring procedures, and the influence of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) on national tests.

Study on comparability of language testing in Europe / European Commission DG EAC, September 2015, 146 p. The aim of this study is to critically assess the comparability of existing national tests of pupils’ language competences in Europe at both ISCED 2 and ISCED 3 levels. The study draws upon data on existing national tests of language competences in the 28 EU Member States collated by the Eurydice Network.

Languages in Education and Training: Final Country Comparative Analysis / European Commission DG EAC (June 2014), 68 p. This report is a comparative analysis of countries’ education and training in languages to the end of upper secondary education.

The Implementation of the Common European Framework for Languages in European Education Systems \ EP policy department, 2013, 98 p. This study aims at analysing way the compulsory school system approaches foreign language learning. It analyses the use of the CEFR in examination, curriculum development, schoolbooks and teacher training.

Multilingualism for stable and prosperous societies: Key quotes and promising initiatives from LRE researchers in each country/region / Language Rich Europe, 2013, 32 p. This report contains 25 detailed country and regional profiles, which focus on language policies and practices in the education sector, as well as in the media, public services and spaces, and business.

LRE Conclusions and Future Perspectives / British Council (2013) The closing report provides an overview of the European and local recommendations that came out of LRE and in the likelihood that new opportunities can be found for the further development of what has already been achieved.

Trends in policies and practices for multilingualism in Europe / British Council, Language Rich Europe, editors: Guus Extra and Kutlay Yagmur, 2012, 266 p.

Towards a Language Rich Europe: multilingual essays on language policies and practices / British Council, Berlin, July 2011 (this book can be read online), 131 p. This collection of essays is the first of a number of initiatives under the British Council Language Rich Europe project, a two and a half year initiative to explore language policy and practice, facilitate knowledge sharing, and promote multilingualism across Europe in partnership with the European Commission, EUNIC (European National Institutes of Culture), and around 30 further partner institutions.


The European Roadmap for Linguistic Diversity / NPLD, 2015. The European Roadmap for Linguistic Diversity aims to reaffirm the European Union’s commitment to linguistic diversity and to ensure that all languages spoken in Europe are seen as common assets, which need to be supported and promoted equally.

Conference on Diversity and Multilingualism in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC), Luxembourg, 10-11 September 2015, summaries / Presidency of the Council of the EU – the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Luxembourg, 10 and 11 September 2015, 12 p.

The Civil Society Platform on Multilingualism was created by the European Commission in 2009 with the aim to promote a permanent dialogue between the Commission and civil society on the different aspects of the multilingualism policy. In 2011, the platform produced a report (and executive summary ) on policy recommendations for promoting multilingualism. ,   a project promoting multilingualism in Europe and reporting on best practice in language policy and language learning, originated from the report. Beside the recommendations, the report also outlines the benefits and challenges of linguistic diversity and multilingualism.

Benefits of language learning

Languages and employability \EC Joint research centre report, 2015, 140 p.

Multilingualism and social attitudes: Social capital in the 21st century / The Economist, article by R.L.G., 18-06-2015. This report reviews evidence regarding the foreign language competences of European citizens and presents new findings about the relationship between foreign language skills and the likelihood of being in employment.

Language Policy and Linguistic Justice in the European Union: The Socio-Economic Effects of Multilingualism / Michele Gazzola, August 2014, ELF Working Paper: # 15.

Does Foreign Language Proficiency Foster Migration of Young Individuals within the European Union? / AinhoaAparicioFenoll and Zoë Kuehn, IZA DP No. 8250 (June 2014)

Language competences in support of mobility and employability: the contribution of the Lifelong Learning Programme and of the European Language Label 2007-2013 . / ISFOL, AgenziaNazionale LLP Programmasettoriale Leonardo da Vinci ; [a cura di Natalia Guido]. -Roma : ISFOL, 2014~

Cultural diversity : advantage or liability? / Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute; Anna Triandafyllidou; IrynaUlasiuk, 2013, 11 p.

The Economic Value of Reciprocal Bilingualism / Ramon Caminal Barcelona GSE Working Paper Series no 713, September 2013.

The economic case for language learning and the role of employer engagement / Education and Employers Taskforce, Anthony Mann, Michelle Brassell and Dave Bevan. 2011 report on the relevance of language learning to UK businesses.

Do you speak European? Media Economics, Multilingualism and the Digital Single Market / Olivier Bomsel in Communications & strategies , 82 (2011).

European Day of Languages highlights benefits of multilingualism for small businesses / EC Press release IP/10/1164, 2010

Language teaching

EU institutions

Council Resolution on language learning & teaching in EU countries , 31 March 1995

Council Resolution on early teaching of EU languages , 16 December 1997

European Language Label is an award designed to encourage new initiatives in language teaching and learning; reward new language teaching methods; and raise awareness of regional and minority languages. ELL has been awarded to a variety of projects . European priorities for the label campaigns in 2014–2015 .

Launched in January 2015, the School Education Gateway website attracted almost 50,000 visitors in its first two months. The website helps teachers and other education stakeholders stay informed about European actions for schools.


Innovative schools teaching and learning in the digital era / European Parliament Policy Department B, workshop documentation, in-depth analysis, August 2015

Learning and teaching technology options / EPRS, STOA, , March 2015,  134 p.

Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe 2012 / Eurostat, EACEA / Eurostat; EACEA, 176 p., 2013

Good practices

Erasmus+, European multilingualism experiences from the lifelong learning programme: key activity 2 : languages 2007-2013 \ Directorate-General for Education and Culture, 2015, 60 p. The aim of this publication is to showcase a sample of 35 best practice projects in languages funded under the Lifelong Learning Programme (2007-2013) and its specifically language-focused funding scheme.

Nellip: Network of European Language Label Initiatives and Projects / DG EAC (April 2015)

The project aims to promote quality in language learning through the application of the quality criteria used to award the European Language Label (ELL) .A total of 556 projects were identified and selected to create a NELLIP database .

Among these, the National Agencies, in cooperation with the NELLIP project partners, selected 227 case studies . The project partners selected best practices , which can be used as examples and benchmarks in the planning and development of quality language learning projects and initiatives that may successfully apply for the ELL.

Computer assisted language learning in language education: an overview of theories, methods, and current practices / Deutschmann, Mats ; Vu, Mai Trang 2015, Språkdidaktik: researching language teaching and learning, pp. 43-60

Improving the effectiveness of language learning: CLIL and computer assisted language learning \ European Commission,, 2014,  44 p. The comparative analysis shows that many countries have strategies and plans that focus on different ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of foreign language education in schools.

Developing School Capacity for Diversity / Sabine Severiens, Migration Policy Institute Europe, SIRIUS Network policy brief series, issue No.3, 2014, 8 p. Research shows that school quality has a greater impact on the education outcomes of migrant children compared to their peers of higher socioeconomic status or ethnic majority background. This policy brief includes good practice examples from several Member States (Latvia, Belgium, Greece, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands).

Open Educational Resources (OER) in less used languages: a state of the art report / LangOER (2014) 10 p. This report presents the results of an in-depth investigation and analysis of Open Educational Resources (OER) in 23 languages, including the target languages of the LangOER consortium : Dutch, Frisian, Greek, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Swedish. The scope of this report is to present the state of the art of OER in less used languages, and to frame some current features of relevance for further development.

Languages Working Group Peer Learning Activity Report / European Commission, 2014, 42 p.

This report brings together the contributions and discussions in question and answer sessions following presentations around the themes of the peer learning activity.

Languages in a Global World: Learning for Better Cultural Understanding / OECD, 47 p., 2012

Guide for the development and implementation of curricula for plurilingual and intercultural education / Council of Europe, 2010, 100 p. This guide offers practical approaches in curriculum development, illustrated with scenarios, in order to implement plurilingual and intercultural education. It is accompanied by two satellite studies.

Expert Perspectives on Creativity and Innovation in European Schools and Teacher Training / Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, 2010, p. 46 p.. This report presents enablers and barriers for creative learning and innovative teaching in compulsory schools in the EU27. It is based on 80 interviews with educational stakeholders from all Member States, from Ministries of Education, academia, teacher training institutions, inspectorate boards, and curriculum development agencies.

Language learning for migrants

European Language Label (ELL) – initiatives aimed at facilitating language learning and easy settling for migrants:

The ELL award winner 2013 Ireland, is an induction and transition programme for newly-arrived separated children. It aims to equip the young people with the skills and tools necessary to access and engage with the mainstream curriculum and to engage more fully in Irish society.

The Migrant Integration Kit developed by INTEGRA contains financial terminology, a financial glossary, and sources of financial information that assist migrants by equipping them with the most useful social and financial phrases.

At the two-year School for Medical Administration in Salzburg, a multilingual brochure was created based on the difficulties in communication with patients and tourists whose native language is not German. The brochure contains the most important phrases for patients and medical staff in four languages (German, English, Turkish and Croatian) and should make daily interactions in the area of medicine easier on both sides.


The Healthcare Language Guide for Migrants, created by partners from 8 European countries, includes: a Phrase Book divided in 12 topics, a Word Fan that provides the words from each topic translated in 17 languages, a Medical Route with information about the healthcare system of the partner countries, a Basic Language Emergency Kit in 17 languages.

EPALE – an electronic platform for Adult Learning in Europe gives some examples of practice how to support the integration of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers .

Developing School Capacity for Diversity / Sabine Severiens, Migration Policy Institute Europe, SIRIUS Network policy brief series, issue No.3, November 2014, 8 p. Research shows that school quality has a greater impact on the education outcomes of migrant children compared to their peers of higher socioeconomic status or ethnic majority background. This policy brief includes good practice examples from several Member States (Latvia, Belgium, Greece, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands).

Language Learning by Adult Migrants: Policy Challenges and ICT Responses / Stefano Kluzer, Anusca Ferrari, Clara Centeno, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, 2011, p. 84

This report evaluates the use of ICT by adult migrants for learning the host country language (or second language, L2). It reviews the current challenges of L2 provision and provides examples where ICT has been implemented to by-pass or solve these challenges.


More than 80% of primary school pupils in the EU were studying a foreign language in 2013 / EUROSTAT press release (24 September 2015)

Foreign language learning statistics: Statistics explained / Eurostat (September 2015)

English, French and German still most common foreign languages studied at lower secondary level in the EU28 in 2012 , but Spanish learning has increased more / Eurostat, press release, 25-09-2014

Europeans and their Languages. Special Eurobarometer 386 / European Commission (June 2012).

First European Survey on Language Competences: Final Report / European Commission (June 2012).

Eurostat has published data regarding foreign language learning in Europe in different levels of education.

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