Language teaching on the rise, English still dominates


An increasing number of students are taught foreign languages in European schools, according to a new report.

From 2005 to 2010, the percentage of students enrolled in primary education in a European school and learning a foreign language rose from 67.5% to 79.2%. 

This is one of the conclusions in the newly released report Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe 2012 by Eurydice and Eurostat, produced in cooperation with the European Commission.

The survey, which covers 15 educational systems in Europe, also found that while the age of students starting to learn a foreign language has decreased, the amount of time taught has not significantly increased.

"Taught time dedicated to foreign languages is rather low compared to other subjects," the report stated.

In Europe, students are generally between 6 and 9 years old when they have to start learning a foreign language. In Belgium, children in the German-speaking community are even younger and start their first foreign language in pre-primary education from the age of 3.

Many other countries have in recent years introduced reforms which begin foreign language classes at an earlier age.

In the majority of European countries, learning two foreign languages for at least one year during compulsory education is an obligation for all students.

On average, 60.8% of students enrolled in lower secondary education in Europe were learning two or more foreign languages in the school year 2009/10 compared to 46.7% in the year 2004/05.

'Do you speak English?'

English is still by far the most taught foreign language in nearly all countries from primary level and onwards. Overall, English is a mandatory language in 14 countries or regions within countries.

In 2009/10, 73% of students enrolled in primary education in the EU were learning English. In lower secondary and general upper secondary education, the percentage exceeded 90%. In upper secondary prevocational and vocational education, it reached 74.9%.

In most European countries, English teaching is followed by either German or French as the second most widely taught language.

Spanish occupies the position of the third or fourth most widely taught foreign language in a significant number of countries, especially at upper secondary level. The same goes for Italian, but in a smaller number of countries.

Russian is the second most widely taught foreign language in Latvia and Lithuania where large communities of Russian speakers live. This also counts for Bulgaria, but in lower secondary education.

In 2009/10, the percentage of students learning languages other than English, French, Spanish, German or Russian was below 5% in most countries. In many countries, the percentage was less than 1%.

The countries with the highest percentages of students learning a language other than the main five were those where the alternative language was a mandatory language. These included Swedish in Finland and Danish in Iceland.

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