What is discrimination on the grounds of language?

Language discrimination is the unfair treatment of a person because of his or her native language, their knowledge of or proficiency in the official (state) language and proficiency in other languages. Language discrimination also refers to someone’s use of language and the characteristics of their speech such as accent, size of vocabulary, and syntax. It is often linked to unfair treatment on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin.

The prohibition of discrimination may be violated, when certain rights are denied to someone and they are treated differently better or worse than someone else because of their language. Moreover, there are different ways in which discrimination can occur, which is not always in a direct and overt manner. Therefore, it is important to recognize different types of discrimination.

Employment

Whilst discrimination based on language may occur in different areas of life, one of the areas most affected is the employment relationship. It is understandable that many jobs, especially in the services area, do require knowledge and proficiency in certain languages, including the official language of the state. However, the required level of such proficiency should be reasonably justified for the purposes of the specific position. 

example Language discrimination may occur when an employer requests a native speaker’s level of proficiency in a certain language without reasonable grounds, or where a person with the necessary level of language proficiency is not hired or promoted merely because of his or her accent.

There can, however, be exceptions in the employment area where different treatment on the grounds of language can be objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate aim.

example The knowledge of a specific language may be required if the ability to speak this language is an integral part of the services offered by a particular company. A minority language speaker may receive a higher salary than another person due to being able to speak more languages which are relevant to the position.

In this Guide, you can read more about the most common areas of daily life where discriminatory practices may occur.

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education