The future of language education in Europe

The future of language education in EuropeLinguistic diversity is one of the great strengths of the European Union.

To foster the potential of linguistic diversity to support multilingual competences and help overcome its possible challenges, innovative policies and practices in language teaching must be implemented across classrooms, schools, regions and countries, taking into account pedagogical shifts and ongoing societal trends such as migration and the increasing mobility of individuals.

These novel language education practices need to overcome persisting language devaluation and isolation, deconstruct existing language hierarchies and apply an inclusive perspective of all languages both in education and in society.

In this context, a network of experts working on the social dimension of education and training (NESET) has published a report that explores emerging innovative approaches and strategies of language teaching in Europe supporting learners’ plurilingualism.

The report intends to inspire educators and policy makers to innovate and implement forward-looking policies and practices in language education.


"To transform language education in Europe, it is necessary to improve the language competences of learners by not only helping them to acquire new languages, but also to maintain and develop their skills in their own languages. It is further necessary to deconstruct the existing hierarchy between languages, and to apply an inclusive perspective towards all languages, both in education and in society. In addition, languages should be used as resources in the classroom, building on students’ linguistic repertoires for learning. This includes discontinuing strategies and practices to separate the target language from other languages students know, and encouraging those strategies and practices that allow transition from one language to another, resulting in a positive transfer of skills and concepts and the strengthening of each of the languages," the report says.

Key findings

The six case studies in this report demonstrate that language teaching strategies are responding, albeit slowly, to the general educational trends of digitalisation and the personalisation of teaching and learning across Europe, with the aim of increasing the overall quality of language education and instilling a culture of plurilingualism.

The key innovation inherent to these developments lies in creating a shift in perception in relation to languages and their role in the process of learning.

This involves the following. First, students’ first languages are not perceived as a problem or deficit, but as an asset for learning and as an enrichment of students’ linguistic repertoires. Second, linguistic considerations and language learning are relevant in and for all subjects. Third, all languages have equal value. Fourth, existing competences and talents support the acquisition of competences in other language(s).  Fifth, students’ language repertoires can consist of multiple languages, with varying levels of proficiency in each. Competences in these languages are interconnected, and are important for the development of plurilingual competences.

The case studies analysed in this report also reveal that the application of this new plurilingual perspective involves the introduction of the following elements into language education: A focus on language awareness within the school’s teaching and learning processes, the active integration of students’ languages into classroom practices,  provision of equal access to quality language education, regardless of students’ first language,  use of the method of alternating languages to enable students to acquire the ability to use several languages in monolingual settings, and to activate both (or all), and even switch between them in plurilingual contexts.


The report also provides recommendations, at system level for policy makers, and at institutional level for school communities and practitioners.

The authors of this report recommend that policy makers change their attitudes towards a more positive perception of the value of inclusive education and plurilingualism, invest sufficiently in financial and human resources, incorporate new language teaching pedagogies more systematically into teacher education programmes and professional development systems, improve monitoring and evaluation systems.

"Overall, education systems and policy makers should be ready to adapt to pedagogical, societal and technological trends."

As for recommendations for school communities adn practitioners, "there is a need for change towards more positive perceptions/attitudes among school leaders and the school community towards the role of languages within the school, particularly in the vision/strategy of the school. There is also a need to foster a collaborative school culture and the creation of a plurilingual ethos across the whole school. The process of change at school level needs to include the monitoring of progress with regard to the role of languages contained in the school’s vision. Furthermore, institutions must be ready to adapt on the basis of such monitoring. An inclusive learning environment is required for the implementation of plurilingual pedagogies such as linguistically sensitive language learning, and to enable educational innovation. Institutions should provide support in various forms, such as enabling teaching staff to invest time in capacity building and professional development; investing (financially) in the tools and equipment necessary for specific plurilingual practices; and providing teachers with flexibility regarding work organisation, in order to facilitate innovation. It is necessary to recognise that teachers are the key agents of change. In order to support the shift towards innovative pedagogies, schools should allow/promote peer-learning opportunities for teachers as well as providing institutional support for teachers to take initiatives. Finally, connections and cooperation with external actors such as universities, research institutes or the private sector, can help schools to introduce and develop innovative language learning practices. Such support may come in terms of capacity building, impact assessment, or access to the necessary tools and equipment."

The report was edited by Emmanuelle Le Pichon-Vorstman (University of TToronto and University of Utrecht), Hanna Siaora and Eszter Szőnyi of PPMi, a research and policy analysis centre based in Vilnius (Lithuania).

NESET is an advisory network of experts working on the social dimension of education and training. It was established by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education and Culture.

With this report, NESET contributes to the implementation of the EU Council Recommendation on a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning of languages as adopted in May 2019.

ISBN: 9789276130604

For more information about the report, the full report, a summary and a one-pager, please visit the NESET website.

Download the full report.

Download the onepager.

Download the executive summary.


Additional information

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