Ineta Dabašinskienė (Vytautas Magnus University)
Knowledge of foreign languages facilitates international flow of work force and tourism, enables people to draw on the cultural heritage of mankind, and opens up possibilities for economic and political cooperation between countries. Joining the EU opened up for Lithuanians enormous possibilities for mobility including academic, professional and cultural. It was supposed that political freedom would encourage people from Lithuania and other Baltic countries start learning not only English, but also other traditional European languages, French and German in particular.
The fact that a significant portion of Lithuanians learns foreign languages at school highlights the crucial role of education systems in promoting multilingualism. The new Curriculum framework for primary and basic (lower secondary) education was approved in 2009. It states that teaching a first foreign language shall start from the second grade and a second foreign language shall be introduced in the fourth grade. The linguistic landscape for the 2010/2011 academic year reveals several important tendencies (the data come from the Ministry of Education and Science of Lithuania). First, the statistics of learning English, German and French as compared to the 2004 situation show an increase for English (96% – 82%), but a sharp fall for German (2.88% – 14%) and French (0.66% – 2.6%). Next, the most popular second foreign language is still Russian (80.9%), followed by German (12.6%), French (3.5%) and English (2.9%). Only very small numbers of schoolchildren take up other languages, such as Spanish, Polish and Italian. In view of this it would be safe to claim that the preferred English – Russian combination has emerged at the expense of traditional linguistic diversity. It seems that economic factors and the prestige of English may play a crucial role here.