On a visit to southern Spain last year, Lithuanian Daiva
Malinauskiene encountered a typical traveler's problem: no one could
give her directions in a language she understood.
But rather than pass it off as an inevitable annoyance of travel
within the European Union (EU), which has 23 official languages and
60 indigenous ones, she devised an unusual solution when she
returned to Lithuania: the Learning by Moving project.
Today, on commuter-packed trolleys in the capital, Vilnius, the
PA systems crackle with impromptu language lessons. "Is the post
office far from here?" a voice asks cheerily, first in Lithuanian,
then in English and Polish.
Passenger Ana Zagun spies the saddle slung over a plexiglass
partition, pulls a brochure from its pocket, and follow along.
"We're in Europe now, so we must learn English," says Ms. Zagun, who
speaks Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian.
Launched last fall in this ex-Soviet republic, the project has
since expanded to five other EU countries: Germany, Italy, Poland,
Romania, and Malta. It's one prong of a broader policy to promote
multilingualism, as the 27-member Union struggles to cultivate a
sense of "Europeanness" while respecting unique identities.
Such tolerance was enshrined in 2000 in the EU Charter of
Fundamental Rights. And many embraced the proverb of another
marginal language, Slovak: Kol'ko jazykov vies, tol'kokrat si
clovekom - The more languages you know, the more of a person you
With that, the Union advances a policy of "mother tongue plus
two" - preferably the lingua franca, English, plus the language of a
key minority or neighbor.
Slovak Jan Figel, the European Commissioner for Education,
Training, Culture, and Multilingualism, said last year that
institutional multilingualism also enhances "democratic legitimacy
and the transparency" of EU decisions.
"Its cost, so frequently discussed in the papers, amounts to a
few euros per year per European citizen," Mr. Figel said. "I cannot
imagine what the social and cultural costs could be if ever the
Union were to abandon its promotion of linguistic diversity."
Still, despite the resources poured into preserving linguistic
diversity - up to EUR 118,000 are spent per day on translation alone
- some express particular concern about the "LWUEL" - Less Widely
Used European Languages. Not surprisingly, then, the trolley project
was hatched in Lithuania, proud owner of one of the EU's more
"If we want everyone to feel at home and a citizen of this
'country,' you need to feel your culture is also accepted," says Ms.
Malinauskiene. "We all live together, so we have to find ways to
live together in peace. …