60% of students in upper secondary education study two or more foreign languages, according to figures published last week by EU statistical office Eurostat.
6%, however, do not learn any foreign language at all, the data revealed, while a third of students only learn one.
The latest figures on language skills in Europe, which relate to 2007, were published by EU statistical office Eurostat last week (24 September) ahead of European Languages Day, which was celebrated across the continent on Saturday (26 September).
Secondary schools in the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Finland all reported that 100% of their students learn two or more foreign languages, with Slovenia and Slovakia (both 98%) and Estonia (97%) following close behind.
The highest proportions of students studying one foreign language are to be found in Greece (92%), Italy (74%), Ireland (73%), Spain (68%) and Malta (60%).
English is the most studied language in all member states for which data were available, except for Luxembourg, where English, French and German have equal standing, and the UK and Ireland, where French is most popular.
At the other end of the scale, over half (51%) of UK upper secondary school students and a fifth (19%) of their Irish counterparts do not study foreign languages at all.
Majority of EU citizens speak foreign languages
As for the language skills of the EU population as a whole, just under a third (28%) of 25-64 year olds surveyed said they spoke two or more foreign languages, but 36% could not speak any.
Slovenia (72%), Slovakia and Finland (both 68%) and Lithuania (66%) record the highest proportion of speakers of two or more foreign languages, while the UK (65%), Cyprus (59%) and Austria (50%) lead those nations whose citizens speak one.
However, three quarters of Hungarians, half (51%) of Portuguese and 47% of Spaniards speak only their native language.
English is the most widely spoken foreign language in the majority of EU member states.
EU game encourages language learning
Meanwhile, the European Commission’s translation department on Friday (25 September) unveiled a new online game, ‘LinguaGo‘, designed to boost interest in language learning among Europeans.
The game sees players navigate a language maze by guessing the names of European languages. Participants can play the game in languages other than their own as their skill level progresses.
The EU's multilingualism strategy, unveiled by Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban a year ago (EURACTIV 19/09/08), warned that the plethora of languages spoken in Europe "can widen the communication gap between people of different cultures and increase social divisions, giving the multilingual access to better living and working opportunities while excluding the monolingual".
The communication urged Europeans to learn at least two foreign languages, including a ‘personal adoptive’ tongue to complement one acquired for professional reasons, and called for "significant efforts [to] be made to promote language learning and to value the cultural aspects of linguistic diversity at all levels of education and training" (EURACTIV 15/09/08).
But no additional funds were made available to help the bloc to achieve these goals.
Last year, a study published by the Eurydice network in conjunction with Eurostat found that over 90% of European schoolchildren learn English at some stage of their compulsory education and this figure is rising (EURACTIV 24/11/08).
It also found that children across the EU are starting to learn foreign languages at an earlier age.
26 September was designated European Day of Languages by the Council of Europe and the European Commission after the Year of Languages in 2001.
- 2012: EU to review its multilingualism strategy.
EU official documents
- European Commission:Communication: 'Multilingualism: An asset for Europe and a shared commitment'(September 2008) [FR] [FR] [DE]
- Eurydice:Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Eurpe(2008) [FR]
- Eurostat:In the EU 60% of students in upper secondary studied at least two foreign languages in 2007(Press release; 24 September 2009) [FR] [FR] [DE]
- Europa:LinguaGo(Online game)