Lingua receptiva in practice

Lingua receptiva is used in business, education and in the private sphere. In addition, lingua receptiva forms an interesting phenomenon in the current multilingualism debate within the European Union, because this concept can be an instrument in achieving the multilingual goals that have been set by the European Commission.


Multilingual Europe

On the pretext of “unity in diversity” the EU has made it her aim to foster linguistic and cultural diversity in Europe. She not only wants to make her civilians aware of the relevance and possibilities of linguistic diversity, but she also wants to actually let them play a part in that diversity, by employing the mothertongue-plus-two-principle in education. By learning different languages and language-specific competencies, an individual will not only command more languages, but as well be more open to other cultures and views, is the underlying thought. From this point of view, the EU hopes to advance the intercultural dialogue in Europe. Both politically and economically, as well as in the educational spheres (Een nieuwe kaderstrategie voor meertaligheid, 2005).


The use of lingua receptiva meets the EU aims regarding multilingualism. Considering everyone can speak their own language, linguistic – and with it cultural – diversity is maintained. In that way all languages are equal and there is not one language which is more important as a lingua franca than the other.
In that way lingua receptiva is THE example of successful intercultural communication. By applying the principle of lingua receptiva, use is made of the advantages mutual intelligible languages can offer. By using receptive competencies, a multilingual understanding can be created.


In practice examples

Within organisations, lingua receptiva is already being used (sometimes unconsciously). An example of its use can be found within the Euregio, and interregional collaboration between the Dutch-German border. Here it has been decided that during meetings they communicate through lingua receptiva. The German employees speak German and their Dutch colleagues speak Dutch (Taalschrift, 2010).
Lingua receptiva also offers possibilities within institutions at supranational level. The European Commission is an example of this. The Directorate-General for Translation is an organisation where multilingual situations are the order of the day. It is here, that the multilingual policies of the EU are put into practice. In their daily practices – i.e. providing translations in all official EU languages – all employees within this Directorate-General are highly multilingual. A current topic of discussion is how they could use their own multilingual competencies optimally as to make the translation process as efficient as possible.


By making use of lingua receptiva, a lot of costs could be reduced.
At present, research on the usability of lingua receptiva at the European Commission is taking place. A system has been proposed in which languages from the same language families can be arranged in clusters. Within a cluster there are mutual intelligible languages, which make that less translations are needed (European Commission, 2012a). To make this scenario work well, it is however necessary that employees of EU institutions receive training in using their receptive competencies. Using this system will maintain multilingualism in the EU (after all, the European Commission does not merely work in three languages, but in all official EU languages), stimulates the intercultural dialogue and at the same time pushes back the costs (European Commission, 2012a).


Research projects

Based on the stated above, lingua receptiva is seen as an ideal instrument by policy makers of the EU. Receptive multilingualism is therefore put forward as one of the policy and research areas. In this context REDINTER (Rede Europeia de Intercompreensao), that is The European Network of Intercomprehension, for instance, has been called to life. There are different work groups with specific tasks and responsibilties active within this network, which all aim to develop lingua receptiva practices. They want to show in what way lingua receptiva can play an important role as well outside of the classroom and focus on both lingua receptiva within language families and between language families. Projects that have emanated from this are, among others, EuroCom, EU&I, IGLO and InterCom Furthermore, Utrecht University and the Dutch Language Union have carried out a research project between November 2018 and December 2019 on the use of Lingua Receptiva in three social sectors. More information about the research projects is described below.


Research project Utrecht University and Dutch Language Union

Utrecht University carried out a research project in cooperation with The Dutch Language Union to do research on the use of Lingua Receptiva (‘Luistertaal’) in practice. The goal of this research was to get insight in good practices of the use of Lingua Receptiva in three social sectors: education, healthcare and in the construction industry.


Background information
The Language Union wants to stimulate the use of Lingua Receptiva in practice as an accessible way to achieve multilingual communication, in particular within the EU and in the border regions. For further policy development, it was necessary to obtain more concrete data about the use of Lingua Receptiva in practice. Lingua Receptiva has already been investigated in several regions in Europe, however, it was important to assemble the existing data and to add examples of good practices of Lingua Receptiva in several sectors.


Experience has shown that many people use the principle of Lingua Receptiva without realising it. People use Lingua Receptiva in many social organisations, for example during meetings, but it is not officially well-known and it is not formally documented as part of language policy. Because of this, further research needed to be carried out in order to formulate recommendations on how to use Lingua Receptiva in various domains. These insights provide concrete methodologies and tools and lead to an adjustment of the language policy.


Conducting research
Utrecht University has carried out a field study, ordered by the Dutch Language Union, into how multilingualism is being approached, and into the use of Lingua receptiva in the three aforementioned sectors through desk research and interviews with key figures and informants from education, healthcare and the construction industry. The research was conducted between November 2018 and December 2019. The main question of the field study is: How is multilingualism being dealt with in various social sectors? And what role does Lingua Receptiva play in this?


A final report has been written based on the interviews and the desk research. This report includes recommendations for the use of Lingua Receptiva in the three social sectors. We hope that the results of the field study will contribute to the development of the policy of the Dutch Language Union with regard to Lingua Receptiva and multilingualism in general.


The report can be found here: Het gebruik van Luistertaal in de praktijk

The report is also published at: Please note that the report is written in Dutch. An English translation of the summary will be published soon.


The research team
Jan D. ten Thije (research coordinator), Emmy Gulikers (research assistant) and Karen Schoutsen (research assistant) carried out this research and were involved through Utrecht University. Mieke Smits was involved in the research through the Dutch Language Union.


Contact details
If you have any questions or comments regarding the research project, please contact Emmy Gulikers:



This research project has as its main aim to stimulate the linguistic and cultural diversity within Europe. In order to reach this aim, they start from the basic principle that speakers of the same language families can understand each other: receptive multilingualism. Different work groups exist within this project that deal with three different language families: the Romanic, Slavic and Germanic language families. The project group of the Romanic language families (EuroComRom) has developed a teaching method to promote receptive multilingualism when reading: the Seven Sieves. This teaching method assumes that a foreign language is never a completely unknown territory for someone. The method shows how much a learner can understand based on his/her foreknowledge when reading a text in a foreign language (e.g. by internationally known words and expressions), and in this way that a foreign language is partly familiar territory as well. Like this, competencies are being activated that the learner already had, but was not conscious of. EuroCom learns people to guess in a smart way while reading.


More information:



IGLO (Intercomprehension in Germanic Languages Online) promotes cross-linguistic lingua receptiva among Germanic languages, based on the Scandinavian model. To do so, seven languages have been selected: English, German, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Islandic. Its target group is people that already speak a closely related language. By means of its developed way, IGLO wants to let people acquire receptive writing competencies in the foreign language in a fast way. The end product of this project is a database with information on the different languages: how can they be connected to each other in the most effective way possible, regarding grammar, vocabulary, phonology, etc.?


More information:



Much attention has been paid to the development of lingua receptiva among speakers within a language family, like the aforementioned projects EuroCom, GALATEA and Galanet, that research intercomprehension among speakers of the Romanic languages. EU&I (European Awareness and Intercomprehension) was the first project that promoted lingua receptiva between languages of different language families.


This project wants to promote the linguistic diversity in Europe as well by developing teaching methods. By means of interactive (teaching) methods, she wants to advance the intercultural awareness. This method is not specifically aimed at educational purposes though, but is more focused on a general public. The method is focused on the acquisition of receptive competencies. On their website, the language learner can enter a hotel. In this hotel 11 different languages are being spoken. Different tasks will be offered, like making a reservation for a hotel room, reading the forecast or following a programme on television. These tasks must be executed in a foreign language. Aim of the tasks is to make use of strategies that could also be used in the own language. This helps the learner to discover that by using the same strategies, he/she actually understands more than thought beforehand. After acquiring these linguistic competencies, the EU&I focuses on the cultural aspect. In such a task, learners have to, for instance, evaluate people based on their expectations. The aim of a task like this, is to get rid of stereotypes.


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The project InterCom develops a method that assumes strategies which are based on the non-linguistic aspect of receptive competencies. The focus of the project lies on languages from different language families, namely German (Germanic language) Portuguese (Romanic language), Bulgarian (Slavic language) and Greek. They offer online interactive activities, in which the learner has to complete certain tasks like shopping or booking a trip. They do not only focus on acquiring receptive competencies in a specific foreign language, but as well on developing general intercomprehension competencies, and with it the promotion of multilingualism.


More information: 


  • EU&I (nd). European Awareness and Intercomprehension. Visited on 07-11-2012.
  • EuroCom (2004). EuroCom Research Website. Visted on 16/10/2012.
  • EuroCom Center (2003). EuroCom Center – de portal to European multilingualness. Visited on 07-11-2012.
  • Europese Commissie (2005). Een nieuwe kaderstrategie voor meertaligheid. Mededeling van de Commissie aan de Raad, het Europees Parlement, het Europees Economisch en Sociaal Comité en het Comité van de Regio’s. Visited / on 16-10-2012.
  • Europese Commissie (2012). Studies on translation and multilingualism. Intercomprehension. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
  • Intercomprehension in Germanic Languages Online (nd). Verkregen van op 07-11-2012.
  • Projectgroep Luistertaal (2012). Gebruik luistertaal en mensen begrijpen je. Taalschrift. Tijdschrift over taal en beleid, 90. Verkregen van /90/gebruik-luistertaal-en-mensen-begrijpen-je op 16-11-2012.
  • REDINTER: Rede Europeia Intercompreensão (2009). Projects and Resources. Visited on 07-11-2012.
Geactualiseerd op 29 January 2020.