Polyglot or ‘polynot’: a look at language skills across the EU

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By Chris Harris
Polyglot or ‘polynot’: a look at language skills across the EU

<p>Luxembourgers are the multilingual champions of the EU while the Irish, Bulgarians, Austrians and Hungarians are among the worst, <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7146709/3-01022016-AP-EN.pdf/31595c2c-dbb8-4c95-9ad5-8cb038ffecd3">latest official data has revealed</a>.</p> <p>All students at lower secondary school level in landlocked Luxembourg are learning two or more ‘foreign’ languages, according to <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Foreign_language_learning_statistics">Eurostat figures</a>.</p> <p>Four-fifths or more of language pupils at the same level in Ireland, Bulgaria, Austria and Hungary are studying just one additional tongue.</p> <p>No figures were available for the United Kingdom, which has been accused in the past of <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/education-27948049">failing to produce enough people with foreign language skills</a>.</p> <p>Other trends to emerge include:</p> <ul style="list-style-type:square"> <li>89.7 percent of lower secondary level pupils in Ireland learn a foreign language, the lowest in the EU.</li> <li>All students at this grade in Denmark, Greece, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia and Sweden learn at least one foreign language.</li> <li>Belgium and Luxembourg are the only countries in the EU where English is not the most common ‘foreign’ language studied.</li> <li>English is the most common foreign language, followed by French, German and Spanish.</li> <li>Russian is the only non-EU language to make the list of commonly-studied second foreign languages.</li> </ul> <script id="infogram_0__of_students_who_speak_two_or_more_languages" title="% of students who speak two or more languages" src="//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js?6BE" type="text/javascript"></script> <h4>Is Luxembourg an anomaly?</h4> <p>There is little doubting the prowess of Luxembourg when it comes to languages, but its figures are helped by Eurostat’s interpretation. </p> <p>The country has three official languages: Luxembourgish, French and German. Children from primary school age <a href="http://termcoord.eu/2015/04/multilingual-classrooms-in-luxembourg/">are taught all three</a>.</p> <p>But despite this, Eurostat still counts French and German as ‘foreign’ languages.</p> <p>A <a href="http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do">survey in 2011</a> showed Luxembourg was the only EU state where more than half of those questioned claimed to be able to speak three languages or more. Nearly three-quarters of adults (aged 25-64) questioned said they were multilingual, while 22 percent declared they were bilingual.</p> <h4>Who are the ‘polynots’ of the EU?</h4> <p>The vast majority of pupils – eight out of ten or more – at lower secondary school level in Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria and Ireland were studying just one foreign language in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available.</p> <p>This is out of keeping with the rest of the EU, where 59.9 percent of language learners at lower secondary level are studying two languages or more.</p> <p>Hungary, Bulgaria and Ireland’s language woes are backed up the 2011 survey.</p> <p>In Bulgaria 61 percent of respondents said they spoke no foreign tongues; the corresponding figure for Ireland was 72.7 percent and Hungary 63.2 percent. </p> <p>But Austria fared better, with just over one fifth of those questioned saying they were unable to speak a foreign language.</p> <p>Bulgaria contrasts starkly with its neighbour Romania, where 95.6 of language learners at lower secondary school level are studying two or more languages.</p> <h4>What are the most popular foreign languages?</h4> <p>English continues to dominate, with 97.3 percent of lower secondary school language learners studying it in 2014, up from 96.7 percent two years earlier.</p> <p>French is the next most studied (33.7 percent, -0.4 from 2012), followed by German (23.1 percent, +1.0) and Spanish (13.1 percent, up 0.9).</p> <p>Russian is the only commonly studied non-EU language. It’s the second foreign language studied, after English, in former Soviet states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.</p> <p>Around 500,000 lower secondary level students study Russian in the EU, with numbers increasing in Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, but decreasing in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.</p>