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Languages of Europe


Eurobarometer survey

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Surveying Europe’s language skills

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The European Commission’s survey and analysis service, Eurobarometer, has carried out two research projects into the language skills of European citizens and their attitudes towards languages.

The surveys were conducted in 2001 and 2006, leaving enough time to compare any changes in attitude. However, due to EU enlargement, the scope of the second survey was wider than that of the first. The 2006 survey included the ten Member States that joined the EU in 2004, as well as Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Turkey.

 

Majority of Europeans speak foreign languages

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The surveys show many intriguing results. In 2001, 53 percent of respondents said that they could speak a language in addition to their mother tongue. In 2006, this had risen to 56 percent. The most multilingual EU citizens are the Luxemburgers, where 99 percent of people know at least one other foreign language, followed by Slovaks (97 percent) and Latvians (95 percent).

In 2006, 28 percent of respondents spoke two foreign languages, compared to 26 percent in 2001. The most popular second languages are English, French and German, followed by Spanish and Russian.

In general, the surveys showed that smaller Member States with several state languages exhibited greater levels of multilingualism. This was also true for countries with lesser-used native languages or “language exchange” with neighbouring countries. Only six Member States had a majority of mono-linguists in 2006: Ireland (66 percent of people not knowing any other language than their mother tongue), the United Kingdom (62 percent), Italy (59 percent), Hungary (58 percent), Portugal (58 percent) and Spain (56 percent).

Only a minority of Europeans consider language learning unimportant - just 8 percent in 2006, although this figure did represent a slight rise over the 2001 figure of 7 percent.