Linguistic Learning Creates Global Impact on a Local Scale


European Day of Languages

EUPS Students Meredith Gillet, Claudia Salvador and Jason Martinez presenting for students
at Liceo Linguistico Peano in Florence.

JMU seeks to be the model for the engaged university – engaged with ideas and the world. Realizing, in its 35th year of sending students abroad, that the obligations of civic engagement extend well beyond the borders of the United States, EUPS students recently visited Florentine high schools to celebrate the European Day of Languages.

EUPS students stood in front of multiple groups of 16-18 year-old pupils and gave presentations about the value of linguistic culture and language learning in the European Union. In its 13th year, the European Day of Languages provided a unique opportunity for JMU and Italian students alike, encouraging all participants to engage with and learn from each other and to appreciate the value of studying foreign languages.

The EU’s motto, “United in diversity,” highlights the rich variety of cultural backgrounds throughout Europe. Organized in 2001, the European Day of Languages strives to celebrate this diversity and to educate EU citizens on the opportunities of multilingualism. The EU has 24 officially recognized languages and more than 60 indigenous regional and minority languages. Programs such as the Lifelong Learning Program, Comenius, and Erasmus are just a few of the many EU-sponsored initiatives designed to educate and train young citizens in the language arts.

James Madison University ranks second in the nation for student study abroad, and for students in the M.A. program in political science with a concentration in European Union Policy Study (EUPS), the European Day of Languages provides an innovative perspective on the value of language in the Europe community. Studying the Italian language themselves, EUPS students are able to experience first-hand the value of multilingualism and how it can open professional, academic, and social doors. For many EUPS students, who have been in Florence since late August, the Day of Languages was a terrific opportunity to experience community beyond the classroom, the Uffizi, and the Ponte Vecchio.

“It was an incredibly humbling experience to talk to [high school] students from another country,” EUPS student Erin Strek shared. “It was amazing seeing these kids who know very little English interacting and participating, even though I knew they were nervous to speak a language that isn’t their native language. It was probably one of my favorite things in the program so far.”

Additionally, the European Day of Languages gave participants the chance to see the EU in action. “What struck me about my group,” noted EUPS student Kelcie Melino, “is that as a bunch of 16 year olds, most them already spoke more than one language. We had a tri-lingual student as well. I think that really says something about European youth and education.” Melino was impressed with the Italian and broader European emphasis on broad language studies. In a typical Florentine high school, it is not uncommon for students to take courses two foreign languages, and many students continue studying multiple languages at the university level.

Umberto Eco, the well-known Italian author once said that “the language of Europe is translation.” Perhaps. But the European Day of Languages and the EU’s broader support of language learning and development are helping Europe move toward a future where the need for translation is less acute and Europeans are able to converse with each other—and with those from outside of the continent—in multiple tongues. For information on the European Day of Languages and broader European language initiatives, see

Published: Friday, September 26, 2014

Last Updated: Friday, January 19, 2018

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