Coordinator Socrates Thematic Network “Speech Communication Sciences”

Utrecht University, UiL-OTS, Trans 10, 3512 JK Utrecht, The Netherlands,
Phone: +31.30.2536042, Fax: +31.30.2536000




Abstract: A short overview is presented of ten years of European co-operation in the area of education in Speech Communication Sciences. Special attention is paid to the possibilities of Associated Countries in this respect, in the past and in the future.


Key words: Education, Socrates Thematic Network, Speech Communication Sciences, Pan-European cooperation





1. introduction

Ten years of experience in cooperative actions for European training and education in Speech Communication Sciences have preceded the current WERA workshop on Education and Research in Speech Communication Sciences in Associated Countries.  Figure 1 summarizes the major actions that have been realised in this period.


Figure 1. A chronological overview of network activities in Speech Communication Sciences education over the past ten years. A star indicates a publication.

The cooperation in Speech Communication Sciences did not start with the classical studies in Phonetic Sciences (as part of humanities faculties) but we deliberately immediately included Spoken Language Engineering, studied in technical universities, as well. The philosophy behind this choice was that such a cooperation (both in research and education) would be the driving force behind future developments. Already implemented in 1990, this is even more valid today.



A Pan-European description of Universities

The academic community in Phonetics and Speech Communication can be estimated to constitute about 200 departments in Europe. These include departments that present a full four-year curriculum but also smaller sections that only present a few courses. The active part of the network (for Western Europe) has only about 20-30 members, but includes most countries. The full coverage of countries is very important for the understanding of all characteristics and differences between European curricula. This mutual understanding has been promoted by the realisation in 1995 of a book on European Studies in Phonetics and Speech Communication [1] that presents useful information for students on 169 sites across entire Europe - including Associated Countries -, the history and present interests of Phonetics and Speech Communication per country and site, but also the views of 33 experts on major aspect of the field to make students enthusiastic, and a first description of elements that could constitute a study of Phonetics and a study of Spoken Language Engineering. Such an achievement seems to be critically dependent on a strong feeling of being a community - which relates to the limited scope of the subject – and motivated members in all countries, where colleagues from Associated Countries were especially eager to join.

A European Masters in Language and Speech

The development of a European Masters in Language and Speech (technology), in another Socrates project, has been an experiment that may bring changes in our ways for cooperation. To overcome the current legal barriers between countries when it comes to a Masters, the professional organisations (the International Speech Communication Association and the European chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics) play an important role in the scheme. On the basis of a definition of the contents of the Masters any student who acquires the necessary knowledge and skills by attending accredited courses is awarded a certificate by the professional organisations. This Emasters certificate can be awarded besides any legal degree the student may obtain from his home university. Courses can be attended across Europe and even may contain a considerable virtual component. This would open possibilities for all European students to acquire the certificate. The prestige from the certificate should come from the professional organisation and from prospective employers who value it. The open structure of the Emasters in Language and Speech offers excellent opportunities for Universities and students in Associated Countries to join. There is already the example of Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. More details can be found in the corresponding paper in these proceedings.

A Socrates Thematic Network

Given the good cooperation shown under Erasmus, it was not difficult to create in 1996 a new and prestigious Socrates Thematic Network with emphasis on reflection. However, the extension with Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) in this network, although well motivated, actually brought together two different communities. This reduced the homogeneity of the network and asked for separate approaches for the different areas (this time for Phonetics and Spoken Language Engineering as well). The SLT community has no fully developed network (with electronic communication), is much bigger than Phonetics and Speech Communication, is far more heterogeneous in its curricula across Europe, has besides theoretical and experimental also therapy goals of study, and includes besides speech sciences many other disciplines. A careful choice of realistic aims in the SLT area and first steps to bring SLT closer to Phonetics and Spoken Language Engineering are required.

Clearly defined deliverables of the network, in the Thematic Network realised by working groups not larger than 8-12 persons, with well-kept deadlines, played a key role in its success. The cooperation in Speech Communication Sciences resulted every year in tangible output. The first year was used to present an analysis of the current situation of studies in Phonetics, Spoken Language Technology and in Speech and Language Therapy. The second year to present proposals which were distributed for comments. Final recommendations on studies were presented as the result of the third year’s work. [2-4].



What have been the possibilities of Associated Countries in the actions described, and what opportunities may be provided in the future? Ten years ago there was a strict distinction between co-operation among European Union countries themselves, and between EU and other countries. Some Tempus projects have strengthened the relation between universities and have given support to the infrastructure in Associated Countries. However, it took until 1998 that within the Socrates frame work countries got comparable opportunities (although still finances have to be accounted for each Associated Country separately, and the co-operation is not yet open to all interested parties).


Our experience in 1995, when working on the Handbook of Phonetics and Speech Communication, was the enthusiastic input we got, especially from Associated Countries. There was a clear wish to have closer relations to the colleagues in the European Union. Another observation was that communication within and among Associated Countries was not as well developed as in the European Union. This was related to the poor ICT structure in the countries at that time, and possibly also had historical reasons. This backlog has been overcome during the last years and also the computational infrastructure has improved, not in the last place due to co-operation programmes with colleagues in the European Union. Also for future developments these co-operation programmes are much needed and participation should be encouraged.


Within the Socrates Thematic Network “Speech Communication Sciences”, we happily had partners from Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia since 1998. This has resulted in improved mutual understanding of the implementation of studies, and of the difficulties and (financial) limitations that exist in Associated Countries. The recommendations from our Socrates Thematic Network hopefully will support our colleagues in Associated Countries (and elsewhere in Europe) if it comes to implement new studies or to modernize or to extend existing studies.


The WERA workshop has brought together 20 participants from the Socrates Thematic Network and representatives from Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Romania, to discuss Network results in relation to the current situation in these countries. More than was possible within the entire network we could focus on specific issues and we could discuss future opportunities. The papers give responses on specific questions and describe the current situation in the countries. The warm and positive atmosphere during WERA may be a precursor for successful joint enterprises in the future. I hope that these proceedings contribute to this process.

WERA resulted from activities of the Socrates Thematic Network "Speech Communication Sciences", supported by the European Commission (Education and Youth).



[1] Bloothooft, G., Hazan, V., Llisterri, J., and Huber, D. (Eds), European Studies in Phonetics and Speech Communication, Utrecht: OTS publications. 560 pp., 1995.

[2] Bloothooft, G., Dommelen, W. van, Espain, C., Green, P., Hazan, V., Wigforss, E., The landscape of future education in Speech Communication Sciences. 1. Analysis, OTS publication, Utrecht. 160 pp., 1997.

[3] Bloothooft, G., van Dommelen, W., Espain, C., Hazan, V., Huckvale, M. and Wigforss, E., The landscape of future education in Speech Communication Sciences. 2. Proposals, UiL-OTS publication, Utrecht. viii+131 pp., 1998.

[4] Bloothooft, G., van Dommelen, W., Fellbaum, K., Hazan, V., Huckvale, M., Leahy, M., and Wigforss, E. , The landscape of future education in Speech Communication Sciences. 3. Recommendations, UiL-OTS publication, Utrecht. ISBN 90-5434-071-1, viii+125 pp., 1999.