Portugal is one of the few countries in Europe that follows the European guidelines stating that all European citizens should be able to speak their mother tongue and two other European languages. Several indicators show that the qualifications of language teachers are exemplary. These are just two of the conclusions of a study carried out by the project Language Rich Europe, which was presented in Lisbon last week.
Co-financed by the European Commission and run by the British Council, the study took place in 18 European countries and will be discussed over the next nine months in more than 80 workshops, where a series of guidelines will be developed and then presented to important political players in Brussels on March 2013.
According to Martin Hope, director of the project, promoting the teaching of languages and social interchange is an essential goal to make “Europeans of all ages develop a broader international perspective, so that Europe as a whole is able to establish commercial trade with the emergent economic powers of the 21st century”.
In Portugal, the study focused on Lisbon and Oporto, as well as Miranda do Douro in the northeast of Portugal, home to the official but minority language of Mirandês. Assessing the teaching methods at schools and the use of languages in several services and even companies, the study highlights Portugal’s history as one of the reasons why being multilingual is valued. With an estimated 240 million speakers worldwide, Portuguese is the world’s fifth most spoken language.
Whilst at pre-school Portuguese (as well as Mirandês in Miranda do Douro) is the only language taught, the study shows that the curriculum organisation and teachers’ qualifications at primary and secondary schools are very good. Despite classes being taught in Portuguese and foreign languages not being mandatory in primary schools, all students learn either English or French from Year One. Halfway through secondary school, learning two foreign languages becomes mandatory, with students usually combining English with German, French, Spanish, Latin or Ancient Greek.
Although most public services are multilingual, not all is good: “The media has a positive influence on the population’s attitudes regarding foreign languages, but that doesn’t reflect on public services and companies, who don’t strongly value its employees linguistic skills,” remarks the study.