On the eve of the European Day of Languages, Ján Figel’, European commissioner in charge of Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism, commented: “As a Slovak proverb says, “The number of languages you speak is the number of times you are human”. Since the poll published today shows that the younger the respondent is, the likelihood of speaking a foreign language increases, I am convinced that today’s young generation will fully contribute to enriching Europe’s multilingual society”.
On this year’s European Day, the European Commission is publishing the results of a Eurobarometer survey which was conducted last June and which focuses on knowledge of languages among European citizens.
Results include the following:
- 50% of the European population say they can speak a foreign language (the result was approximately the same in 2001, when 47% of the EU15 population said they could speak at least one foreign language). The results vary considerably from one country to another: 29% of the Hungarian population, 30% of the British and 36% of the Portuguese, Italian and Spanish populations say they can master a foreign language, whereas 99% of the Luxembourgish population is at least bilingual;
- English is known as a second language by one third of the EU population. It is followed by German (12%), which has slightly overtaken French (11%) as the second most spoken foreign language in the EU due to the fact that it is widely used in the countries which joined the EU last year ;the 2004 enlargement has lifted Russian to the fourth place – tied with Spanish - in the list of the most widely spoken foreign languages in the EU;
- From an occupational point of view, students are the most likely to speak a foreign language: almost 8 out of 10 students can use at least one foreign language.
The EU supports a number of different actions and programmes in favour of language learning and teaching. For example, through the Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci programmes, the Commission invests over € 30 million per year in practical projects that stimulate the enthusiasm of language learners and their teachers. These include school exchanges, language assistantships, teacher training and awareness raising initiatives.
There is also an enormous investment in mobility through the Erasmus action, the Youth programme, and the town-twinning action. The Commission regards mobility as a key factor in motivating people to learn about their neighbours, and to learn their languages.
In July 2003, the Commission published an Action Plan on “Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity”. The Action Plan sets out three broad fields of action which it sees as crucial for the future:
- extending the benefits of language learning to all citizens;
- improving the quality of language teaching;
- creating a more language-friendly environment. In other words, fostering an inclusive approach to languages, improving language awareness via the media and the Internet and improving the supply and take-up of language learning opportunities.
In support of these objectives, the Action Plan sets outs the Commission’s vision for languages in the EU, defines what the EU’s role can be in this task and asks EU Member States to increase their action in the priority areas identified. The Commission has committed itself to undertaking 45 actions at European level between 2004 and 2006, in the hope of encouraging others to progress at national, regional or local level.
Latest statistics show that the percentage of pupils in primary education learning at least one foreign language has risen almost everywhere in recent years. At present in the majority of Member States, 50% of all pupils at this level learn at least one foreign language and curricula in the great majority of countries offer all pupils the possibility of learning a minimum of two foreign languages during compulsory education.
The Commission will also publish this autumn a Communication on Multilingualism, setting out its broad strategy for the years ahead.
More information :
 See IP/05/163