Growth of Language Centres in European Higher Education

In this section, we turn to the expansion and development of language centres in European higher education. After many years of limited and often inadequate levels of institutional support for the reforms needed in language learning, some change and new measures have emerged in recent years and are strengthening.

Increased Demand for Foreign Languages

The demand for improved language provision in higher education worldwide is the result of a number of factors. Globalization, which emerged as a defining and driving force in the nineties, still continues as a dominant paradigm despite world political crises and recession. The expansion of the internet fosters ever more global and individual interconnectedness, not just in English but now across a range of languages. The spread of English as a Lingua Franca (Crystal 2003; Graddol 1997) has dramatically changed the world linguistic landscape. But in recent years, demand for other languages is increasing.

Geopolitical including security and economic factors have also played an important role in creating the need for language competences. Much was written in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack about the critical lack of foreign language competence in the US at a moment of vital national security. One of the consequences has been the raised awareness of the impact of national deficits in languages and the resulting establishment of the ‘critical languages’ programmes in the US (National Security Education Program, Undated).

Since then, criteria have been drawn up to mark out certain languages as ‘critical.’ These criteria are based on national and human security issues but also environmental, economic, trade, demographic and other factors.

The ‘English is enough’ view has lost ground to a greater awareness of the need for multilingualism in a global world. English is the language of international business, science, politics and the internet. But while it is the language of global communication, more often than not, people think, behave, feel and make decisions in other languages. For obvious economic, political and other factors, Chinese is increasingly being perceived as a critical, high- stakes language.

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