The Grin Report, formally Foreign language teaching as public policy, was written in 2005 by François Grin, economist and professor at the University of Geneva, answering a request by the Haut conseil de l'éducation.
This document attempts to answer the following questions: "What foreign languages ought to be taught, for what reasons, and considering what context?" It considers the economic costs of language policies, as well as their cultural and policy implications. (The report refers throughout to the French situation and to Europe, but it is not a European report nor a report on the French situation.) It examines three scenarios: the choice of a single natural language, the choice of three natural languages and the choice of a constructed language, Esperanto.
This report is known at the level of Europe and has been the subject of a written question to the European Parliament. However, it has not resulted in real changes in the language policy of any State.
First scenario : all-to-English
The report analyzes the choice of English, although the analysis can be applied to any other national language chosen as lingua franca. The report (page 65) refers to this scenario in the following terms:
- "It is not the English language as such that is the problem, but the linguistic hegemony, regardless of the language in whose favor it is exercised. [...] If this linguistic hegemony were to work (as is happening) in favor of English, it would be a very bad case [...] for all non-English speaking states of the EU, and even beyond its borders."
The report indicates that for the United Kingdom, one of the Member States where English is an official language, this represents a yearly saving of 17 to 18 billion euros (€290 per inhabitant). This savings would be strengthened with the choice of English as the only language. This figure does not include the additional benefits to native speakers of the only language chosen in a situation of conflict or negotiation occurring in that language. The report further states that the symbolic effects also have material and financial repercussions.
According to the Grin Report, five points give rise to an unfair redistribution:
- A quasi-monopoly position on the markets of translation and interpretation into English, editing texts in English, teaching English and production of materials for such teaching;
- Saving time and money in international communication, at the expense of non-native speakers who must make all the effort to speak and understand English;
- Saving time and money for English-speakers, who need no longer make much effort to learn other languages;
- The return on investment, in other forms of human capital, on resources that Anglophones no longer need to invest in learning foreign languages;
- The dominant position of English-speakers in any negotiation, competition or conflict occurring in English.
Second scenario: multilingualism
The trilingual scenario consists of requiring each European citizen to know two languages out of a chosen set of three, e.g. French, German and English.
According to the report, this scenario does not change the costs of language teaching. The multilingual solution tends to reduce inequalities among speakers, but still imposes a burden on those whose first language is not among those chosen. In any case, trilingualism is not stable; it requires a series of accompanying measures without which it risks collapsing into adoption of a single language.
In a Europe with 21 official languages (as of the date of the report), multilingual communication thus cannot be left to chance, and it is convenient to specify here how the multilingual scenario benefits by comparison with the two others.
"Multilingualism" is thus defined as follows: each European resident must master two languages besides his or her native language, from a chosen set of three, in order to ensure that any two Europeans can communicate. Like the adoption of a single language, as discussed above, this gives a privileged status to certain languages.
The multilingual scenario therefore is not perfectly egalitarian: in effect, even if every European does learn two foreign languages, two situations can be distinguished:
- For those whose native language is English, French or German, it suffices to choose one of the two foreign languages from this group of three, but the other foreign language can be Italian, Japanese or Welsh.
- In contrast, for a native speaker of Estonian or Portuguese, the two foreign languages must be from the English/French/German trio. Any other language, be it Italian, Japanese or Welsh, must be learned as a third foreign language.
This asymmetry is not without consequences for comparison of the scenarios.
Still, it must be noted that even this restriction does not ensure communication, as would the other two scenarios. In fact, if the multilingualism described here is to be truly distinguished from linguistic hegemony, it assumes that the member States will have taken genuine steps to encourage usage of several languages.
If these measures are not effective, we fall back into the "all-to-English" scenario; but if they are effective one can, almost by definition, expect that those European citizens whose native language is not English, French or German will learn two of these languages in roughly equal proportions.
Eventually, Europeans will belong to three large groups: those who speak English and French ("EF"), French and German ("FD") or German and English ("DE"). What intercommunication can we then expect? To simplify calculation, we assume that these three groups are equal in size.
In a randomly chosen audience of 20 such bilingual Europeans, the probability that at least one person will be excluded by use of one of the trio languages is 99.9%. In other words, it is nearly certain that at least one participant has a repertoire which, while conforming perfectly to the model of the privileged trio, does not include the language chosen for this meeting of 20 persons.
A further problem is the choice of languages for the trio (and the criteria for choosing them). Once that selection is adopted, the problem arises of the trio's stability when new States join the EU; if Russia or Arab states were to join, it would be politically difficult to exclude their languages from becoming official.
Third scenario: Esperanto
The report argues that adoption of Esperanto would save the UE 25 billion euros a year (over €54 per inhabitant). Since February 2013 there is a petition in Avaaz to follow the report's recommendations. The report also notes:
- The frequent reactions of rejection toward Esperanto make it impractical to put scenario 3 in effect in the short term. However, it can be recommended in the context of a long-term strategy, to be put in place over a generation. Two conditions, however, are critical for its success: first, a very great effort of information, to overcome prejudices against this language – which in general are grounded in simple ignorance – and to help develop mentalities; second, a true coordination between States toward putting such a scenario into common effect. 85% of the population of Europe of the 25 [i.e., the EU with 25 member states] have a direct and evident interest, independent of the political and cultural risks that linguistic hegemony entails.
One could think, at first sight, that it is only necessary to replace English with Esperanto, replacing "all-to-English" with "all-to-Esperanto". Despite this surface resemblance, the differences between these two linguistic environments are sizable:
- With the use of Esperanto, all the unfair transfers of "all-to-English" disappear; that applies equally to the "legitimation effect" or "rhetorical effect" (which are not quantified in the study); the symbolic importance of that effect, however, remains major.
- Learning Esperanto is considerably quicker than learning any natural language; this is true, though to varying degrees, whatever the student's native language may be. The advantage perhaps more evident for native speakers of a Romance language, but exists even for speakers of non-Indo-European languages, despite a vocabulary drawn essentially from Indo-European languages.
- As Esperanto is no-one's language, and thus easily everyone's language, its spread is less of a threat to existing languages than that of English.
The comparison between the different scenarios is based on the following elements:
- Definition of a linguistic environment, in the European context;
- Identification of the benefits, especially communicative, associated with each environment;
- A very basic definition of the axes of foreign-language-teaching policy that each environment requires;
- The costs of each policy for the education system;
- Transfers caused by each linguistic environment, distinguishing, according to the analysis of the previous chapter:
- The privileged markets;
- Savings of effort in communication;
- Savings of effort in teaching foreign languages;
- The yields from savings made on teaching.
"There is in my opinion no way to estimate, even roughly, the legitimizing effect (thus the undue superior position in negotiation and conflict situations) that, according to the linguistic environments, may accrue to speakers of the privileged language or languages. Until a solution can be found to this sensitive issue, the legitimizing effect (elsewhere called "rhetorical effect", cf. Grin, 2004a) is assumed to be included in the social and cultural dimensions noted above. It should nevertheless keep a crucial importance in any evaluation."—Grin
Scenarios 1 and 2 therefore have the same cost in terms of teaching foreign languages. Scenario 3, by contrast, has a lower cost, since achieving a certain level of proficiency in Esperanto is much faster than in any other language and the literature is unanimous in this regard.
In what follows, Grin opted for extreme caution in assuming a 3:1 advantage (rather than 10:1) in favor of Esperanto.
|Linguistic scenario and environment||General features||Foreign languages to teach||Spending for foreign language teaching||Transfers to the hegemonic language country||Net cost compared to scenario 3|
|scenario 1: all-to-English||Interlingual communication mainly in English; inequalities in favor of native speakers of that language; increased risks of eventual erosion of linguistic and cultural diversity.||
|scenario 2: trilingualism||Interlingual communication in various European languages, gravitating towards a few "big" languages, notably the three languages preferred by the assumed troika (English, French, German); linguistic and cultural diversity more affirmed, but risk of instability causing need for targeted measures to promote communicative contexts in non-dominant languages, particularly in languages other than English.||
|scénario 3: Esperanto||Interlingual communication primarily in Esperanto; near-complete equality between speakers regardless of their native language||
Some comments may help to interpret this table.
- The net benefit of the Esperantist scenario ought not to be surprising, since it reflects both the efficiency of this language and its fairness. Consideration of equity in the ranking of scenarios should therefore favor scenario 2 or 3.
- Non-market values enhance the attractiveness of scenario 2, because it promotes the daily visibility of linguistic and cultural diversity, and highlight the defects in scenario 1, which poses the greatest risk of uniformity.
- The explicit and separate consideration of symbolic dimensions, related to the historic and political roots of European culture and (and to the extent that such dimensions could not be captured through non-market values), reinforces these findings.
- The amounts reported here are based on one calendar year; they accumulate year by year, and reinforce a dynamic increasingly difficult to reverse, in which such amounts themselves will weigh ever more heavily.
Mr. Grin wonders: If an audit shows the scenario "all-to-English" to be the most costly and least equitable of the three, how does it continue to gain such adherence? How to explain that a preferable alternative, in terms of efficiency and equity, is never seriously considered? What guidance can be envisaged in the short and long term, given the results so far?
Scenario 1 ("all-to-English") presents a serious risk of standardization and can not prevent provincializing other European languages.
Scenario 2 ("multilingualism") is certainly supported – at least at the level of general principles, and in a very a blurred version – by all the talk of European officialdom. However, besides having little apparent significance in practice, this scenario is credible only if it incorporates a tight regulation of communicative contexts. This requires a subtle engineering because it cannot work unless it turns to its advantage the double logic of usability and minimax (or at least neutralizes these forces where they favor English); the process is made more delicate by the perceived artificiality and constraint of such measures.
Grin concludes that the best strategy among those studied in the long term for language teaching as public policy is to focus on Esperanto (scenario 3). He has not studied other constructed languages.
- Grin Report, page 3
- Written question in Italian by Marco Cappato (ALDE) to the Council on 9 August 2006. Answer given October 9, 2006
- Grin Report, page 7
- Rapport Grin, p. 7 and 102
- Avaaz Petition for use of Esperanto in the EU
- Piron, 1994; Flochon, 2000.
- Mullarney, 1999
- Grin p.72
- Thus Flochon (2000: 109) notes that "the Institute of Cybernetic Education of Paderborn (Germany) has compared the learning times of several groups of French-speaking baccalauréat students to reach an equivalent 'standard' level in four different languages: Esperanto, English, German and Italian. The results are as follows: to reach this level, 2000 hours of German study produce a linguistic level equivalent to 1500 hours of English study, 1000 hours of Italian study and ... 150 hours of Esperanto study. No comment." Other estimates scattered in the literature confirm faster achievement in target language skills in Esperanto than in all the other languages with which the comparison has been made (Ministry of Education [Italy], 1995) as well as propaedeutic benefits of Esperanto (Corsetti and La Torre, 1995).
- "There is therefore little doubt, in view of the above estimates, and more if we take into account the role of historical and symbolic dimensions that they do not incorporate, that scenario 3 constitutes, from a general analytical point of view, the best solution." (p.98 of the report)
- The Grin Report (in French) at La Documentation Française
- English, the worst solution (in French), article in Le Temps on the Grin Report
- And if Esperanto replaced English... (in French), article in Le Courrier, 23 July 2005
- The language challenge: Facing up to reality, by Claude Piron
- First part of a ten-part series on the same subject in French, by Claude Piron