Original publication: 2nd revised edition May 2017
Authors: Mercator European Research Centre: Rixt VAN DONGERA, MA, Drs. Cor VAN DER MEER, Richt STERK, MA,
The authors would like to thank Ramziè Krol-Hage, MA, Jorrit Huizinga, MA, and Marlous Visser, MA, for their assistance and valuable comments throughout the study. Additionally, several experts were interviewed during the project and we would like to thank them for their valuable ideas and contributions.
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Main Findings
Minority Languages and Education: Best Practices and Pitfalls

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Based on a review of relevant legislation, projects and literature in combination with an indepth comparative analysis of thirteen case studies, this report lists a variety of key findings that are essential for a thorough understanding of best practices and pitfalls concerning regional and minority languages in education. The most significant findings are listed below:

  • There is no one-size-fits-all best practice suitable for all minorities.
  • By recognising a language as a co-official or official state language, a state commits itself to taking concrete measures in order to protect and promote this language.
  • It is the nation-state that needs to implement the necessary measures they have agreed to.
  • Institutional support and language planning are of fundamental importance when it comes to minority education.
  • A widely recognised problem regarding minority language education that needs to be addressed is the availability of high-quality teaching material and skilled minority language teachers.

The most widespread and commonly recognised challenge for minority language education is the availability of high-quality teaching material and the proficiency of minority language teachers. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the challenges that minorities face, this report offers a number of general recommendations for the further development and promotion of minority languages.

It must be noted that the main responsibility for implementing essential measures to improve the quality of minority language education lies with the nation-state. A nation-state can commit itself to the further promotion and development of its minority languages by recognising the language(s) as a co-official or official state language or/and by ratifying the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML) for the respective language(s). Institutional support and language planning are namely the key components of support that a nation-state can provide.


The recommendations that can be deduced from the comparative analysis of the case studies (Annex 2) are focused on a diverse range of issues. On the basis of the review in chapter 1 of this report, as well as the analysis conducted in chapter 2, this report offers the following recommendations for the European Union and its Member States:

  • To maintain and promote programmes focused on the exchange of experiences and best practices concerning regional and minority languages in Europe;
  • To promote EU-wide research on education, language learning and instruction models in a multilingual context;
  • To stimulate the development of qualitative teaching material in minority languages for all educational levels;
  • To promote stable relationships between countries, especially in border regions where both languages are spoken;
  • To develop an international reward system which stimulates teachers to become proficient in teaching in a multilingual classroom;
  • To raise awareness for multilingualism throughout Europe;
  • To stimulate Member States to ratify the legislative frameworks for proper legal language recognition; To implement language planning as a long-term key issue in state politics;
  • To stimulate Member States to provide a continuous learning line for minority languages from pre-primary education to third-level education.

The basis for these proposals and a more detailed and explanatory description of the recommendations can be found in chapter 3.


There are many minority languages in Europe, each of them coping with a different set of circumstances at nation-state level or regional level. There are no fixed definitions for the concepts ‘minority’ and ‘minority’ languages. For this report, the choice was to follow the definition used in the ECRML, and focus only on languages traditionally used within a given territory of a state by nationals of that state. In practice, this means that languages used by groups that have migrated to or within Europe in recent decades are not considered.

Under the subsidiarity principle, matters of minority languages in education must be dealt with on a national and sometimes even regional level. However, the international and more specifically European influence on these issues must not be overlooked. A multitude of countries on the European continent have signed and ratified the ECRML and the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), which requires these countries to take relevant measures to protect and develop the situation of their national minorities and languages. Both are legally-binding instruments from the Council of Europe and especially the ECRML focuses very specifically on the rights that minority languages can claim under the Charter with regard to education. The influence of the ECRML and the FCNM, relevant EU charters such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, as well as the support the European Union can give by for example initiating research or projects that stimulate the cooperation between multiple minority language areas, is remarkably relevant when discussing minority languages in education.

The main aim of this research project is to give a clear overview of the situation of thirteen European minority languages, particularly with regard to the role that minority languages play in education. The report also contains a chapter on background issues, including the used definition of minority languages, a description of relevant international agreements and developments on the EU level. It is important to realize that an extensive framework for the protection and promotion of regional languages already exists.

The thirteen cases are compared on the basis of their ‘best practices’ and ‘challenges’. Although each region has its own specific language situation, there is much to be gained from the exchange of best practices, and much is to be learned from each other’s challenges. The role that the EU can play in this regard is also taken into consideration.


The methodology used for this study comprised the writing of comprehensive case studies for all languages selected. The information was retrieved mostly from the Mercator Research Centre’s Regional Dossiers series, complemented by interviews with experts from different European regions (Annex 1). These interviews completed the overview of this report’s case studies and resulted in the acquirement of more detailed information on, for instance, specific language situations and career developments. In order to give a comprehensive framework in which this report and its outcomes can be placed, an extensive review of relevant legislation, literature and European projects has been conducted.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/585-915

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Figure 1: Language vitality

When it comes to maintaining languages, vitality is of key importance. Scholars usually distinguish nine criteria to measure whether a language is vital and not threatened with extinction. These nine indicators are part of a broader theoretical framework for language vitality and indicate what is necessary to maintain the language.

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