Europeans and their language(s) #langchat #elt

QUICK QUIZ:  What is the most widely spoken mother tongue in Europe?

The answer and other interesting facts are below thanks to the European Union’s Language Barometer report just released here.  Also just released and of equal interest is the European Survey on Language Competences rating 16 EU countries in L2, L3 levels of competence in high school.


QUICK QUIZ 2: which European country performed best in L2 of English?

(feel free to guess in the comments)

and tip of the hat to Kate Bell who let me know about these reports!


15 fascinating stats!!!

1) In accordance with the EU population, the  most widely spoken mother tongue is German (16%), followed by Italian and English (13% each), French(12%), then Spanish and Polish (8% each).

2) Just  over half of Europeans (54%) are  able to hold a conversation in at least one additional language, a quarter (25%) are able to speak at least two additional languages and one in ten (10%) are conversant in at least three.

3) 88%  of Europeans think that  knowing languages other than their mother tongue is very useful.

4) Two thirds of Europeans (67%) consider English as one of the two most useful languages for themselves.

5) Languages perceived as the most useful that come up right after are the following: German (17%), French (16%), Spanish (14%) and Chinese (6%).

6) 98%  of Europeans consider mastering other foreign languages  as useful for the future of their children.

7) There has been a decrease in the proportion thinking that French is important (-9 percentage points), and in those thinking German is an important language for personal development (-5 points). Europeans are more likely now than they were in 2005 to think that Chinese is an important language (+ 4 points).

8) Countries where respondents are least likely to be able to speak any foreign language are  Hungary (65%),  Italy (62%), the  UK and  Portugal (61% in each), and Ireland (60%).

9) The  five most widely spoken  foreign languages remain  English (38%), French (12%), German (11%), Spanish (7%) and Russian (5%).

10) Just over two fifths (44%) of Europeans say that they are able to understand at least one foreign language well enough to be able to follow the news on radio or television. English is the most widely understood, with a quarter (25%) of Europeans able to follow radio or television news in the language. French and German are mentioned by 7% of respondents each, while Spanish(5%), Russian (3%) and Italian (2%).

11) 54% of Europeans able to speak foreign languages are likely to use them only occasionally (69%). A quarter (25%) use them every day or almost every day.

12) The most notable changes since 2005 are an  increase in the proportion of Europeans who regularly use  foreign languages on the internet (+10 percentage points) and  when watching films/television  or listening to the radio (+8 points). The proportion of Europeans who do not use a foreign language regularly in any situation has fallen from 13% in 2005 to 9% in 2012.

13) The majority of Europeans do not describe themselves as active learners of languages. Around a quarter (23%) of Europeans have never learnt a language, while just over two fifths (44%) have not learnt a language recently and do not intend to start.

14) The most widely mentioned barrier to learning another language is lack of motivation, with a third (34%) of Europeans saying this discourages them. Around a quarter of Europeans cite lack of time to study properly (28%) and that it is too expensive (25%). A fifth (19%) of Europeans say that not being good at languages discourages them.

15) The most widespread method used to learn a foreign language is through lessons at school. Just over two thirds of Europeans (68%) have learnt a foreign language in this way. Much smaller proportions of Europeans have learnt a foreign language by talking informally to a native speaker (16%), with a teacher outside school in  group language lessons (15%), and by going on frequent or long trips to the country in which the language is spoken (15%). Europeans are most likely to think that school language lessons are the most effective way they have learnt a foreign language.


Interesting to note how important motivation is a challenge for learners.  This is among the key reasons why all of us at Edulang have always imagined our products as tools for teachers to use with students, more so than raw tools for students, though we do have some very motivated individual learners on board, so there all always exceptions that prove the rule!


QUICK QUIZ 3:  Which finding most most surprised you?


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--- i'm a learner-teacher, language geek, outdoorsy kind-of-guy --- U might miss the next tweet... Wanna subscribe by email ? ;-)
  • Kate Bell

    Really good summary, Brad. I was sure you’d like the reports. But didn’t it sting just a bit to see online learning clocking in dead last on the “most effective ways to learn a language” question?
    Since you asked which stat we find most interesting, I found the last bit in the Eurobarometer report poignant. It’s about how most people think the EU should communicate with them in a single language, but also how almost everyone thinks every EU language should be treated equally. Europe still has a lot of complicated identity politics to work out. Right now it’s all being overshadowed by the debt crisis, which may explain why these reports aren’t getting as much media attention as they deserve.

  • Brad Patterson

    Hey Kate,

    Yes, I was really surprised that online learning doesn’t yet have a more
    positive draw among those surveyed. As any survey, it’s important
    to understand just whom they were asking to see what the results mean.
    Will let curious readers dig in further as I just wanted to give a
    taste here.

    What I do know is that the production of digital materials and their
    assumed consumption is supposed to double before 2015, and I have a
    feeling that we’re in the middle of that storm of digitalization at the
    same time that we’re in this European debt storm. Things will change
    fast, I feel, but the quality of online materials and the amount of interaction they afford when compared to tools of 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago is pretty impressive. Leaps and bounds these days and now we’re just trying to figure out how best to optimize them both f2f and virtually.

    I think the part that most impressed me was that 1/4 people thought learning a language was too expensive. I know that’s a big part of the reason that my team has gone “pay what you want”; so that anyone who wants access to quality materials can have them.

    Exciting times, and always fun to have this kind of global view on language learning impressions. Cheers, Brad

  • Jrlevine

    Fascinating stuff! I know many teachers who will want to use it as “quiz show” material in their lessons. Thanks, Brad!

  • Arne

    a bit unfortunate that formal schooling is still held in such high regard, I personally think there are much better environments for language learning than the class room. The only advantage I see is that by signing up to a course you can “externalize” your motivation. It’s easier to follow assignments than to move out of your comfort zone and practice in real life.

  • Lexical Leo

    Quiz 2: I’ve always thought the Dutch were the best English speakers in Europe but wouldn’t be surprised if one of the Scandinavian countries performed better (how was it determined? through a test?) as L2 English speakers.

    Quiz 3: not surprised that German is the most widely spoken language in Europe. I’ve always “divided” the world linguistically as follows:
    Europe – German
    the Americas – Spanish
    Africa – French
    Asia – English

    Thank you for stimulating us intellectually, Brad!

  • Brad Patterson

    Have always had a soft spot for jeopardy in class ;-) Cheers J!

  • Brad Patterson

    You know I’m right there with you, Arne. To play the devil’s advocate I guess some folks don’t have the luck we have to be able to travel, or find that space to practice in real life. That being said… we make our own paths, so, yeah… i’m with ya on this one ;-)

    Merci 4 stopping by, bud!

  • Brad Patterson

    The Dutch are very talented speakers of English, and I think the Swedish are just a bit ahead. The testing is explained on the ESLC website if you’d care to look into it a bit more (244 page document!!!).

    Interesting stuff indeed… just summarizing and sharing here, but glad it was intellectually stimulating, Leo! Cheers, b

  • Lexical Leo

    Hmm 244 page doc is a bit too much for me to handle on a Friday night but I will look into it some time :)
    Was looking at your fascinating facts again and saw that the nationality least likely to speak another foreign language is Hungary which didn’t come as a surprise either. I was in Budapest last November (on the way to TESOL France) and we couldn’t communicate even though between myself and the friend I was with we speak English, German and Russian – 3 of the most commonly spoken foreign languages in Europe which, according to fact #9, should have given us more than 50% coverage :)

  • Europeans and their language(s) #langchat #elt | A journée in … | Learning a new language |

    [...] 14) The most widely mentioned barrier to learning another language is lack of motivation, with a third (34%) of Europeans saying this discourages them. Around a quarter of Europeans cite lack of time to study properly (28%) …  [...]

  • Brad Patterson

    haha… yeah, I hear ya, Leo! 244 is quite a bit!

    I think that’s a wonderful thing about Hungary, and I say that from a traveller who loves it when there’s a linguistic barrier between the population and me. It’s a barrier that tempts me to learn a bit, whereas if I’m in Sweden or Denmark, everyone speaks English, so…

    More exotic. And yet, that’s just my explorer perspective. Of course, it would be wonderful if we all share a lingua franca, wouldn’t it? ;-)

  • Europeans and their language(s) #langchat #elt | A journée in … | Speak to the future |

    [...] QUICK QUIZ: What is the most widely spoken mother tongue in Europe? The answer and other interesting facts are below thanks to the European Union's Language Barometer report just released here. Also just released and …  [...]

  • Tyson Seburn

    I guess it may be that German is considered one of the more valuable languages to learn and that it is the most widely spoken mother tongue. Maybe that’s just because my knowledge of European population isn’t good.

  • Brad Patterson

    Surprised me. Population one, I guess. Nice to see you back in the neighborhood, Ty! ;-)

  • Tyson Seburn

    Glad to be back, buddy.