Lifelong Learning and Pluralingualism. A Tale of Slaves and Emperors.

marcus_licinius_crassusWhen reading the latest missives from the European Union on language policy, one is reminded of the Roman Senate in 73 BC. Confronted with the increasing slave revolts, they scratched their heads and asked themselves how these slaves could be so opposed to the righteous march of civilisation. After all, hadn’t the senate made it possible for people to be transferred over great distances, see great new cities and work in fabulous rich homes in magnificant Rome? Hadn’t the senate made it possible for simple people, scratching a living from the earth, to sail in magnificent sailing vessels and learn how to row? Hadn’t the senate made it possible for simple folk not only to visit their marvellous sports arenas but also to take centre stage and perform in front of huge noisy highly appreciative crowds? And so it is with the would be Roman senate of today. Pacing the “corridors of power” in Brussels complaining of the plebian classes who fail to grasp their great vision of lifelong learning, multilingualism and, of course, mobility. This is no more evident than in the study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s own committee on Culture and Education .and published in 2008 called:

MULTILINGUALISM: BETWEEN POLICY OBJECTIVES AND IMPLEMENTATION

For those readers not yet fluent in Eurocratish, the findings can be basically translated as: “The European Union’s policy of Mother Language plus 2 other languages is a diabolic failure”. Rather than the citizens of Europe storming the bastille of “language barriers” arming themselves with an ever-growing quantity of languages and travelling around Europe in search of new employment possibilities, the report concludes:

there is a significant resistance to language learning. 44% of EU citizens admit not knowing any other language than their mother tongue – and in six Member States – Ireland, the United Kingdom, Italy, Hungary, Portugal and Spain – the majority of citizens belong to this group. The evidence suggests that the level of motivation of EU citizens to learn languages is moderate. Only 1 in 5 Europeans can be described as an active language learner. A “multilingual” European is likely to be young, well-educated or still studying, born in a country other than the country of residence, who uses foreign languages for professional reasons and is motivated to learn.

Born in another country is a key point here, of course, because a vast number of people who are able to hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue (some 56% of citizens in EU member state) do so as the result of:

geography, cultural history, migration patterns and institutional factors. For example, in Luxembourg, 9% of citizens speak Portuguese – a fact attributable to a substantial Portuguese minority residing in the country; in Latvia and Estonia a significant share of citizens speak Russian as their mother tongue (26% and 17% respectively), and, for some EU citizens their mother tongue is the language of their country of origin outside the EU, particularly in countries with traditionally large immigrant populations such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

So why, given that, according to the report, 83% of Europeans think knowing another language would be usefu,l don’t they enrol in language courses or teachers undertake further language training to impart such skills to their charges? The answer from the study is that Europe needs to:

develop a more targeted policy framework for multilingualism and linguistic diversity. This should focus on developing robust methodologies and instruments to identify the different needs and different ‘scenarios of use’ in which language policies can be practically applied (see Example 9, p.60). It should cover variables like different language learning styles and different language learning capacities.

Translated from Eurocratish this means a change of emphasis from “mother tongue plus two” to the vast majority of countries concentrating on English. It also suggests teaching an elite a high quality of authorised English , others, in the words of Romano Prodi, a “broken English or, in the report, “World English”, and others still, only a basic passive receptive skill for English. This is very much influenced by the thinking of every Eurocrat?s favourite sociologist, ex-marxist, Van Prijs . These words are more or less taken from Prijs himself:

The evidence to support the view that English has become the global language seems unassailable. and mobility can only be achieved through the acceptance and use by ordinary European citizens of a single European lingua franca – English. A key argument here is that the systematic promotion of multilingualism excludes ordinary people from gaining control over life opportunities, because ‘Europeanisation, and beyond it globalisation, is the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and the powerful who can afford quality interpretation..

For Van Prijs the dominance of English is inevitable and the only way of ensuring world democracy is to ensure everyone can participate directly, i.e. through English. He acknowledges the injustices of this fact and suggests native English speaking countries compensate non-native English speaking countries to cover the costs of this linguistic transition. Of course the authors of this report are fully aware that the UK will not part with a single penny for these purposes so they content themselves with arguing that money should be diverted from mother plus two to protect minority languages: Ultimately, Van Parijs and his supporters in The Senate take capitalism to be inevitable and the market to be the best means of organising the production and distribution of the means of living. They talk of hard priorities and soft priorities and argue that by following the logic of capitalism they can divert energies to softer priorities, like diversity and human rights.:

Multilingualism and linguistic diversity are sometimes conflicting policy agendas. Language learning policy has tended to be influenced by ‘harder’ priorities like economic competitiveness and labour market mobility, and linguistic diversity policies by ‘softer’ issues like inclusion and human rights. Multilingualism policy has been more highly prioritized than linguistic diversity policy in terms of concrete actions and The evidence therefore suggests that, compared with multilingualism, minority languages and linguistic diversity have consistently been ‘short changed’ …

This is rather like the Romans granting Imperium to Crassus. In order to defeat Spartacus and the slave revolt, effective control of the senate, and thus the Roman Empire, was passed to the blood-thirsty Crassus, a wealthy land owner who had previously wielded little power in the empire. Only through a centralisation of forces, and the overruling of the narrow interests of the conservative senators could Spartacus and his friends be made to stay in Italy. The rest, Julius Cesar et al, is history. And here in Europe the neo-liberal project takes hold over the narrow interests of its participants, i.e., the governments of individual countries. Education systems are to be subordinated to the American, British Academic industry (Plan Bolonia), referendums on the European constitution are to be scrapped or simply ignored, and everyone is going to speak English, at least the English befitting their station in life. And why should we do this? Well, to protect democracy and diversity of course. What complete nonsense.

The failure of mother language plus two and lifelong learning is the failure of neo-liberalism. The neo-liberal project has expanded education and training but shifted the burden of funding from the employer to the individual. The existence a reserve army of labour, both in Europe and beyond, has given employers more power over selecting workers and they are able to demand both that workers arrive already qualified and that they undertake training at the worker’s own expense. Workers have funded this training for themselves and their children through credit and their real wages have not grown in proportion to the extra training burden they have undertaken. Indeed language training is only a small part of the extra training (the amount of training in excess of that undertaken in previous generations) they do. This is coupled to new workplace relations where more responsibility is placed on the individual workers (often though teamwork) without a concomitant increase in pay but a definite increase in stress levels. It is telling that the same European powers are also pushing for a 60 hour week at the same time as pushing for lifelong learning and mother tongue plus two. The priorities of capital accumulation is taken to be the priority of all even though we get lumbered with debt and the rich get richer. And the end result of this new economics is an economic crisis which could dwarf that of the 1920’s, a crisis which, like its predecessor, can only be resolved through the vast destruction of capital, most likely through war. Is it any wonder the plebeians don’t follow their edicts. Learn several languages, travel to where the employer wants you, pay your own learning expenses, do the training they want. There is no quality of life in the European project, no democracy, no diversity and no future. Like Spartacus, we must resist the European neo-liberal project and not be fooled by those, in the tradition of Blair, who argue they are doing it for the weaker sections of the community. These are simply lies: if they want Lifelong learning and pluralingualism:

Cut class sizes to 16 in all secondary schools across Europe.

Make trips abroad to study languages freely available for all children

Cut the working week to 30 hours per week

Make it law that all employees be given 120 hours paid study each year

Bring the Language Teaching industry under tighter government control, ensuring affordable prices for books and other materials, better qualified and paid teachers and smaller class sizes.

Only by gaining control over the levers of society can we develop a language policy that enriches our lives rather than enslaves us to the dictates of Europe Plc.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Lifelong Learning and Pluralingualism. A Tale of Slaves and Emperors.

  1. You say that everyone is going to speak English in the European Parliament.

    Please consider discrimination against minority languages.

    A neutral language like Esperanto would also combat linguistic discrimination, by placing all languages on an equal footing.

    Please visit http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a translator for the United Nations in Geneva.

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