The first European Day of Languages took place on 26 September 2001. It was one of the highlights of the European Year of Languages.

On the eve of the closing event of the Year, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided to declare a "European Day of Languages" to be celebrated on 26 September each year. This decision was taken in response to a recommendation by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which had been actively involved throughout the campaign.

The Committee of Ministers recommended that the Day be organised in a decentralised and flexible manner according to the wishes and resources of member states, which would thus enable them to better define their own approaches.

The European Year of Languages 2001

Source: "European Year of Languages 2001",
European Commission

Celebrating linguistic diversity,
lifelong language learning

"Everybody deserves the chance to benefit from the cultural and economic advantages language skills can bring. Learning languages also helps to develop tolerance and understanding between people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds." - Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer and the European Commissioner Viviane Reding in a joint statement released at the official launch of the EYL

This page describes the origins, aims, activities and results of the European Year of Languages, 2001.


The idea to launch a "European Year of Languages" was born at the Council of Europe during a Project's Final Conference in April 1997 organised by the Language Policy Division. The proposal, supported by representatives of member states, was examined by various bodies and the European Commission was invited to join in.

In January 1999, the Committee of Ministers declared 2001 the "European Year of Languages" and the European Union joined in by a Declaration in June 2000.


The overall aim of the 2001 Campaign was to promote the rich linguistic and cultural heritage of Europe. It was the occasion to celebrate the linguistic diversity of Europe and highlight the importance of intensified and more diversified language learning so that all Europeans can face the challenges of an increasingly interactive multilingual and multicultural continent.

The aims of the Year were:

  • to increase awareness of Europe's linguistic heritage and openness to different languages and cultures;
  • to motivate European citizens to develop plurilingualism, that is, to achieve a degree of communicative ability in a number of languages, including those less widely used and taught;
  • to encourage and support lifelong language learning for personal development.

For the purpose of co-ordination, a European Steering Group was set up to advise the general organisation. The Council of Europe invited member states to nominate a national EYL Co-ordinator who was often assisted by a national or regional team. A preliminary international seminar was organised in 2000 which allowed the co-ordinators to establish links and to get guidelines for the organisation of events. National co-ordinators linking later with the European Commission were most often the same, which was a major key for a successful synergy.

National co-ordinators provided the Council of Europe with regular information on events in their country, which led to the online publication of a regularly updated "Calendar of events". Co-ordinators were provided with promotional material, from the European Commission and from the Council. A number of countries received financial support thanks to generous financial contributions of other countries to the Council of Europe.

A number of national co-ordinators expressed the wish to build on the impetus created by the Year and pursue activities to promote linguistic diversity and continue with newly created network. This is one of the reasons which encouraged the Council of Europe to declare a European Day of Languages. In most countries, the persons who had been designated "EYL national co-ordinator" accepted freely to act again as a "Relay person" for the Council of Europe, for the European Day of Languages.

In terms of the co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Commission, there was an ongoing communication and cross representation at meetings. UNESCO was regularly involved by the participation of a representative in all major events.The Campaign Book of the European Year of Languages 2001 highlights concept, focus and scope of the foreseen activities.

The Campaign Book of the European Year of Languages 2001 highlights the concept, focus and scope of the foreseen activities.


a special Finnish EYL 2001-edition stamp

The European Year of Languages was successful in involving millions of people across 45 countries in activities to celebrate linguistic diversity and the benefits of being able to speak another language.

Co-operation between the European Commission and the Council of Europe was undertaken in a number of areas, in particular the organisation of the launch event (Sweden February 2001) and the closing event (Belgium, December 2001).

Two highlights during the Year were also jointly organised:

  • the Adult Language Learners' Week (May 2001) and
  • the European Day of Languages on 26 September 2001.

Promotional material was jointly produced (Handbook for Adult learners "How you can learn languages" and an Information pack). The co-operation resulted also in a shared information campaign including a logo, slogans and a website.

The European Commission published a call for proposals; it co-financed 150 successful projects selected for funding. See Awareness-raising projects for a selection of the funded EU EYL projects.

Key activity materials:

  • European Year of Languages 2001: some highlights
    This booklet, produced by the European Commission, gives a "snapshot" of some of the activities the Commission organised or funded during the Year.
  • 2001 special Eurobarometer survey 54 "Europeans and Languages"
    In order to mark the EYL celebrations in 2001, the European Commission published a survey of the language skills of European citizens and their attitudes towards language learning. This special Eurobarometer survey was carried out in all 15 EU member states between 6-23 December 2000.
  • Calendars of events in Council of Europe member states
    These calendars established by the Council of Europe provide a good overview of the wide range of activities organised.
    Council of Europe international calendar
    Council of Europe national calendar

Some Results

Summary Report of the EYL Evaluation (main results)

  • European opening and final events were co-organised by the Council of Europe and the European Commission, in Lund, Sweden (18-20 February 2001) and Brussels, Belgium (7-8 December); the events were attended by national co-ordinators of all 45 participating countries.
  • An exhibition with posters and promotional material from all 45 participating countries was presented in the Council of Europe premises in Strasbourg on the occasion of the European Day of Languages 2001.
  • National launch events were held in various member states and often attended by a representative of the Language Policy Division.
  • A joint European Commission/Council of Europe website in eleven languages was developed and updated throughout the Year. Besides, the Council of Europe set up a specific EYL website (2000-2002), to include regular contributions from its member states.
  • National websites were provided by most participating countries.
  • An audio was realised by the Language Policy Division, recording "hello" sounds in all national/official languages of member states and available online on the EYL website; this was produced thanks to the participation of the Council of Europe staff in Strasbourg.
  • 1.000.000 copies of European Year information texts were distributed, including 500.000 of the joint Commission/Council of Europe Guide "How you can learn languages".
  • The European Commission realised a "Eurobarometer" public opinion survey on languages which was completed in December 2000 and results were announced in February 2001.
  • Many thousands of events took place at national, regional and local level throughout the Year.
  • At least 70 national newspapers, and many television and radio stations across Europe covered the European Year, including a one-day regular broadcast on 26 September.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people visited European Year stands at open days, fairs and exhibitions across Europe.


Source: "European Year of Languages 2001", European Commission

In October 2001, the Council of Europe invited national EYL co-ordinators to provide an evaluation of the European Year of Languages. The overall assessment of the EYL by the national co-ordinators was extremely positive. For further details, refer to the Final evaluation of the European Year of Languages 2001 - report, Council of Europe - May 2002.

Also the European Commission analysed the results of the European Year of Languages in two reports.