At the initiative of the Council of Europe, since 2001, on September 26 each year we celebrate the European Day of Languages. As the deputy commissioner for the rights of national minorities in Hungary, I find this day as one of special importance, as it focuses on the linguistic diversity of our continent.
In the countries of Europe, including Hungary, there is a high number of national minorities, who can do their best to preserve their own identities by preserving, cherishing and teaching their mother tongues, as well as providing education in their mother tongues. Europe’s colorful linguistic kaleidoscope is made up by over 225 indigenous languages, 24 official EU languages, some 60 regional or national minority languages, as well as several other languages spoken by people who have come here from other parts of the world. The European Day of Languages provides an excellent opportunity for making the European citizens realize how diverse the palette of languages spoken on our continent is, furthermore, we can thus also draw the attention of the public to the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity and language learning.
Globalization and also, the deepening of European integration and increasing mobility are such factors as consequence of which European citizens more and more often come across linguistic diversity in their everyday lives. It should be remembered that at least one half of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual, and this is an especially normal phenomenon among the members of the national minorities living in Europe. Bilingualism has a number of advantages: it makes it easier to learn further languages, it makes thinking more sophisticated and promotes establishing relationships with other people and cultures. In addition to these, bilingualism and multilingualism offer economic benefits as well: those who speak several languages stand better chances in the labor market, while multilingual business enterprises are more competitive than their monolingual counterparts.
The European countries, including Hungary, that signed and ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in the framework of the Council of Europe in 1992, undertook to safeguard the language rights of the recognized national minorities that live in their territories, a fundamental element of which endeavor is to ensure that national minority languages are taught in schools, on different levels. On the European Day of Languages, we should highlight that encouraging the national minorities to use their respective mother tongues, the increasing number of our bilingual or multilingual compatriots, as well as linguistic diversity in general mean an invaluable advantage to the whole society, in all walks of life.
Dr. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay, Prof. HC
Professor, Deputy Ombudsman