Promoting student awareness in language and speech

To all national education authorities

This document is directed primarily at national education authorities.  A secondary audience consists of schools and higher education institutions.
The goal of this document is to present suggestions for raising the awareness and the participation of students in the areas of language and speech.  It is argued that actions in this direction are urgently necessary.

The expectation is that national education authorities will have an interest in adapting the plan to national and regional needs and will implement a number of suggested actions, in co-operation with the schools and higher education institutions left under their responsibility.

These recommendations have been prepared jointly by two SOCRATES/ERASMUS Thematic Network Projects sponsored by the European Commission: They have been been endorsed by:

Why is a promotion plan necessary?

The new information-based economy puts high demands on the European multilingual and multicultural society.  The markets of the new economy are currently dominated by services available in only a few languages, which on the one hand excludes groups in society, and on the other hand threatens the rich linguistic diversity of our society.

If Europe wishes to preserve its linguistic and cultural heritage and aims at encouraging all citizens to participate in the information society, there is a strong need for human language technologies that can provide natural access to information based services in the user's own language and can handle and preserve digitized forms of our cultural heritage including literary works, documentation, archives etc.

Europe is already becoming a major player in the field of human language technologies.  Research groups and companies are making significant advances in the development of language and speech processing tools such as machine translation, speech access to telephone services, dictation, cross-linguistic information retrieval on the Internet, and similar natural language-based access.  Still, the pace of these efforts does not match the increase of the needs.

Unfortunately, the dramatic increase of industrial ambitions in language and speech has not yet been accompanied by a corresponding increase in educational programmes in language and speech.  Consequently, the language industries acutely need more and higher qualified personnel in all European countries.  Research and development projects in language and speech also suffer from a lack of highly qualified researchers.

It is expected that future workers in areas of language and multilinguality will increasingly need competencies related to the use of language-related information technology (Souillot, 2000).

Improvements in study programmes in relevant scientific fields, especially computational linguistics and speech communication sciences, are presently needed.  Human language technologies require an interdisciplinary competence which does not yet have a established place among traditional academic disciplines.  Lowering the boundaries between traditional disciplines would therefore be a desirable goal.

At the same time, however, steps must be taken to attract sufficient numbers of good students to these programmes.  In our experience, the large majority of students and prospective students are not sufficiently aware of the opportunities for studying human language technologies.

Moreover, the use of information technology is not well integrated in language studies at secondary school level, such that it remains unknown to the majority of future students.  Therefore, most potential students are unaware of the study opportunities as well as the job opportunities in this new field.

Raising awareness to encourage participation of students is a formidable task that cannot be left to the individual educational institution alone.  We therefore call on national educational authorities to further develop, finance and implement plans of action in cooperation with the secondary and higher education institutions under their responsibility.  Below we suggest a number of action lines that can be followed up.

Summary of information needs

Targets of awareness raising actions

Prospective studentsand their teachers should be provided with good and easily graspable information aimed at increasing their awareness and students' motivation for studying language and speech technology subjects.

Information topics

It is suggested that awareness raising actions address the following questions for information:

Overview of possible media, forms and scenarios


We suggest that the following (among others) be considered as possible media for use in awareness raising actions:

Co-operation partners

Itn setting up concrete actions, it would be useful to consider co-operation with several partners, for instance:

Examples of actions and scenarios

The following examples may provide inspiration for types of actions to be carried out at various levels.  Together they form an example scenario of a composite action.
  1. National or regional websites are established at information centres.  These may be under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education or delegated to a national professional organization or networking organization (such as CLIF in Flanders).  The websites provide information about regional and national study opportunities, international programmes, employers, job offers, internships etc.  The presentation on the websites must be well tailored to the primary audiences (secondary and higher education students) and invite their active participation and response.  They must contain concrete contact information in order to allow students to enrol in programmes, attend events, etc.
  2. Radio and television programmes are broadcast.  It is suggested that radio and television programmes, including newscasting, documentaries, science programmes, talk shows and childrens' programmes include thematic orientations on language and speech technology by means of special shows, news stories, announcements, discussions etc.  In addition to reaching the primary audience, these programmes will also raise awareness among the general public.  Apart from universities and research institutions, companies will have an interest in profiling themselves via these media.
  3. National or regional teacher conferences include focused information.  Such events are excellent occasions for introductory presentations by experts about computational linguistics and language and speech technology.  These presentations inform teachers about the new field, study opportunities etc.  Armed with new knowledge, teachers can percolate the information to their pupils.  This type of action would benefit from the participation of researchers and representatives from companies.
  4. Video tapes or CD-ROMs are sent out to all schools.  A complementary action may consist of sending out video taped or CD-ROM documentaries directly to schools for classroom presentation.  In this way, a large audience of pupils can be reached in a most direct way.  Classroom viewings can be followed up by classroom discussions and the provision of further information by the teacher and may provide references to relevant websites, information centres, organizations and other events.
  5. Student shadowing and open days.  Secondary school pupils attend university classes for a day to get the 'university experience' in natural language and speech courses, accompanied by demonstrations and job orientation fairs.
  6. Direct collaboration between secondary and third level education.  Several elements of speech and language technology are already applied at secondary level.  CAL (computer assisted learning) in foreign language, grammar, mathematics and statistics, computer studies, etc. embody applications of computational linguistics, albeit at a low level.  Collaboration between secondary level education, third level education, software developers and educational publishers must be directed at improving these products.

Putting it into action

The undersigned organizations hope to improve the language and speech competence in Europe, with the help of national education authorities and their partners.  It is our expectation that national authorities will take up the responsibility to put the plan into action.  This needs to be done by setting up co-operations with many partners in society, by adapting the suggested actions to various national or regional contexts (language, educational system, etc.) and will finance and carry out actions which directly target the intended audiences.  The strengthening of a true European multicultural and multilingual society will be a very satisfying reward for all parties contributing to these goals.

Appendix 1: Where to find information

Jewels website: provides databases, recommendations etc.

TNP on Advanced Computing in the Humanities: provides project information, surveys and reports.

TNP on Speech Communication Sciences: provides project information and reports.

ELSNET, the European Network of Excellence in Human Language Technologies: aims at bringing together key players in academia and industry.

CLIF: is a research network for Computational Linguistics in Flanders.

Appendix 2: Our network partners

ACO*HUM network, partners 1996-2000

<List of all ACO*HUM partners>

SCS network, partners 1996-2000

<List of all SCS partners>

Appendix 3: References

Souillot, Jacques (2000).  Développement des métiers liés aux outils de la langue.  Les cahiers du numérique (LCN)1 (3), 97-110.  Paris: Hermes Science Europe.