Resolution 12 of UNESCO's 30th General Conference, 1999

The General Conference,

Recognizing the need to improve understanding and communication among peoples,

Also recognizing the great importance of safeguarding the linguistic and cultural heritage of humanity and extending the influence of each of the cultures and languages of which that heritage is composed,

Considering the current threat to linguistic diversity posed by the globalization of communication and the tendency to use a single language, at the risk of marginalizing the other major languages of the world, or even of causing the lesser-used languages, including regional languages, to disappear,

Also considering that educating young people throughout the world involves sensitizing them to dialogue between cultures, which engenders tolerance and mutual respect,

Further considering that substantial progress has been made in the last few decades by the language sciences, but that insufficient attention has been paid to the extraordinary ability of children to reproduce sounds at key periods of their development,

Noting that the ability of children to acquire phonetic and grammatical skills has been scientifically corroborated,

Considering that these skills enable young children to acquire competence at an early age in real communication, both passive and active, in at least two languages, whichever they may be,

Aware that democratic access to knowledge depends on a command of several languages and that provision of such access for all is a duty at a time when private language training, which is both expensive and elitist, is spreading in many countries,

Mindful of the resolutions adopted in support of bilingual education at its 18th and 19th sessions (1974 and 1976),

Taking into account the establishment by the Executive Board in October 1998 of the Advisory Committee for Linguistic Pluralism and Multilingual Education and the creation of the Languages Division in the Education Sector by the Director-General in 1998,

  1. Recommends that Member States:

(a) create the conditions for a social, intellectual and media environment of an international character which is conducive to linguistic pluralism;

(b) promote, through multilingual education, democratic access to knowledge for all citizens, whatever their mother tongue, and build linguistic pluralism; strategies to achieve these goals could include:

  1. the early acquisition (in kindergartens and nursery schools) of a second language in addition to the mother tongue, offering alternatives;
  2. further education in this second language at primary-school level based on its use as a medium of instruction, thus using two languages for the acquisition of knowledge throughout the school course up to university level;
  3. intensive and transdisciplinary learning of at least a third modern language in secondary school, so that when pupils leave school they have a working knowledge of three languages - which should represent the normal range of practical linguistic skills in the twenty-first century;
  4. an assessment of secondary-school leaving certificates with a view to promoting a grasp of modern languages from the point of view of communication and understanding;
  5. international exchanges of primary- and secondary-school teachers, offering them a legal framework for teaching their subjects in schools in other countries, using their own languages and thus enabling their pupils to acquire both knowledge and linguistic skills;
  6. due attention in education, vocational training and industry to the potential represented by regional languages, minority languages, where they exist, and migrantsí languages of origin;
  7. availability to teachers and education authorities of a computerized network, including a database, to facilitate exchanges of information and experience;
  8. the establishment of a national and/or regional committee to study and make proposals on linguistic pluralism in order to initiate the necessary dialogue between the representatives of all professions and all disciplines so that they can identify the main lines of a language education system which is adapted to each country but which also facilitates international communication, while preserving the rich and inalienable linguistic and cultural heritage of humanity;

(c) encourage the study of the languages of the major ancient and modern civilizations, with a view to safeguarding and promoting a literary education;

  1. Invites the Director-General to refer the matter to the Advisory Committee for Linguistic Pluralism and Multilingual Education