Language courses

, by Dorothée Lefebure

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Language courses

In the EU25, it has become necessary to be multilingual. Then what can be said about the language skills in the European Union and how could we encourage language learning all around the Europe?

Now that The European Union consists of 25 members, a recent study shows that already 50% of the population can speak a language other than their mother tongue; furthermore 26% of the population is bilingual.

It is not a surprise that English is the language which is most widely spoken in the EU, with 34% of population who can speak English. Other well-known languages are German (12%), French (11%), Spanish and Russian (5%).

The language champions are the Luxembourgers, of whom 99% are able to use several languages.

According the statistics, in “the model student” countries they can speak at least two official languages. The language champions are the Luxembourgers, of whom 99% are able use several languages (FR, DE, LUX). The Latvians, the Lithuanians, the Maltese and the Dutch are widely bilinguals (90%).

Is there a common denominator for these multilingual champions? These countries have a relatively compact area and a language that is neither too widespread nor internationally commonly used; this is due to the reason that small countries have not usually tried to build empires (it is more likely that the colonialism that concerned the great European countries, has psychologically affected the attitudes towards foreign languages in these countries).

Surprisingly in Hungary it is a very different situation, when it comes to language learning: even though the Hungarian (a Finno-Ugric language) is spoken only by some ten million people, only 29% of the Hungarians can speak a foreign language. One reason is that after the 1989 soviet downfall, Hungary endures sequels of 45-year systematic learning of Russian under the communist domination. Once the Berlin wall was no longer there, Hungary faced a new era of nationalism and few Hungarians felt any need for learning another language. However, during these last ten years, young people have increasingly showed interest in learning English and some have even chosen the language of Molière.

The French are below the average

As a rule 45% of French people acknowledges being able to take part in a conversation in a language other than French whereas the EU25 average is 50%. But how to explain the fact that nowadays some nationalities would be more desirous to learn languages than others? It can most probably be explained by the early learning of foreign languages. In Germany and in France language learning starts at age 11, that is the European average. However in Germany it is more and more common to start learning languages at age 6 and in Luxembourg even earlier. The German seem to assess language learning higher than The French. In Germany, the Minister of education considers that a quarter of the timetable of the pupil should consist of languages. This aim is much higher than the European average. In France, only 10% of the timetable in schools consists of languages. In Europe, it is in Luxembourg that language learning has the best position in schools with 50% of the time.

With its 20 official languages the European Union invests every year more than 30 million euros in language learning, to name a few programs, Socrates, Leonardo and Erasmus operation. These programs aim to enable every young European to learn two other languages in addition to his/her mother tongue.

Translated from French by Muusa Korhonen from Finland

Your comments
  • On 26 October 2006 at 21:09, by mankso Replying to: Language courses

    This article appeared here two months ago and there still have been no reactions. How curious!

    I am glad to see though that several language-related articles have now been published here, but it completely baffles me why several facets of the EU/multilingualism issue are almost consistently omitted from any discussion:

    1) The readiness of so many young Europeans to become such willing victims of Anglo-American linguistic neo-colonialism, and to sacrifice without protest years of their lives to studying English - a language that few will ever master actively to anything approaching native-speaker level. At the same time, most native-speakers of English enjoy the privileged position of not having to study any second language at all. Is this linguistic democracy and fairplay in action?!

    2) Which second language should British pupils learn anyway? Those few who do study a second language usually learn French, but German has more native-speakers in Europe. And neither of these is much use when holidaying in the sun in Spain, Italy, Greece or Turkey.

    3) Surely the obvious and most rational solution for everybody is an easy-to-learn common, second language, such as the non-ethnic Esperanto, already in everyday practical use? And besides, it offers an excellent introductory springboard for learning other languages more efficiently later on.

    Just why the obfuscation regarding Esperanto? Is it just because of lack of information, or is it stubborn resistance to, and fear of, the unknown - “Ignoti nulla cupido”?

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