The institutionalization of multilingualism: A comparative look at university foreign language education in the U.K., the Netherlands, and Turkey

Elise S. Ahn

University of Illinois, Urbana - Champaign, United States of America


The European Union’s (EU) language policies can be categorized into institutional and non-institutional language policies, where its non-institutional language policy (NILP) essentially concerns the EU's foreign language education learning/teaching policies. (Van Els 2005; 2006) The focus of this paper is the impact of increased EU intervention in a policy domain that has traditionally been within nation-state purview. The United Kingdom (U.K.), the Netherlands, and Turkey are the three Member States chosen for the comparative case studies. The U.K., with its experience of devolution and varying language policies within its devolved states, is still a pre-dominantly Anglophone, has seen recent increasing public discussion about compulsory foreign language education in lower schools. The Netherlands has traditionally offered a wide range of languages and has compulsory foreign language education from elementary school, but recently has been scaling back the range of language courses available. And Turkey, with its continued pursuit of EU membership, and subsequent re-aligning of different education policies, is the third country. This paper then specifically looks at these issues by focusing on language learning shifts that are taking place among university-aged students, who studied (or are studying) in other EU Member States to learn another language with ERASMUS MUNDUS program framework funds.

A critical discourse analytic framework (Wodak and Chilton 2005) is used to show policy discourse shifts from the 1980s through the present. What is noticeable is the shift away from the value of language as a part of diversity and identity towards an increasing linking of language capacity with economic mobility, particularly with the development of the 2000 (revised 2004) Lisbon Strategy. EURYDICE (Information Network on Education in Europe) data provides the quantitative backdrop establishing patterns of university-aged student movement in the three case study countries, in order to measure the impact of EU policy and funding intervention. Both the discourse analysis and EURYDICE data reflect a particular type of multilingualism being shaped in EU Member States, and raise some philosophically challenging questions about the legitimacy of these processes, without trying to undermine the complex relationship between human agency within institutions and their policy production processes.

Session: Paper session
History / Planning and Policy
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 01