The Council of Europe and the European Union are to join forces in promoting a European Year of Languages in 2001, creating the opportunity to raise the profile of foreign languages in the UK - as well as our community and heritage languages.
In many ways it comes at a crucial time: the report of the Nuffield Inquiry into the UK's languages capability to be published later this year is likely to focus on areas where current provision needs to be improved if we are to keep up with the rest of the world.
Too often we place our faith in English as a global language, yet complacency towards foreign languages poses a real threat to us, both as individuals and as a nation.
In Nuffield's earlier consultation report, David Graddol quotes recent research which shows that the future of global communication is unlikely to be based on a single language, and that people will increasingly find themselves in contexts where competency in one or more foreign languages is expected of them. How will the European Year of Languages help?
The aims of the Year, as defined by the Council of Europe, are threefold:
* to raise awareness of the richness of Europe's linguistic heritage
* to make the widest possible public aware of the advantages of competence in another language;
* to encourage lifelong learning of languages. To these, the European Union adds a fourth: to publicise information about the teaching and learning of languages.
As UK co-ordinator for the European Year of Languages, the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research and its partners will be contributing to all four aims.
CILT aims to encourage as many organisations and individuals as possible to take part in organising events and activities for different audiences, which can be "badged" with the EYL logo.
There will be a dedicated area of the CILT website where such activities can be registered, and CILT plans to publish the first EYL newsletter later this month.
As Steven Pinker says in The Language Instinct, "the race is not to the swift, but to the verbal" - we need to make sure that as a nation we are equipped to take part.
Teresa Tinsley is programme manager, CILT.European Year of Languages co CILT, 20 Bedfordbury, London WC2N 4LB.Tel: 020 2379 5101 ext. 229.E-mail: email@example.comWebsite: www.cilt.org.uk