Foreign languages useful but skills do not match ambitions
By Eric van Puyvelde | Thursday 21 June 2012
Almost nine out of ten EU citizens believe that the ability to speak foreign languages is very useful. However, barely 54% of Europeans say they are able to communicate in a language other than their mother tongue.
These are the – slightly contradictory – results of a Eurobarometer poll and a study, released on 21 June, on multilingualism and language learning. Ten years on from the 2002 Barcelona declaration, which called for at least two foreign languages to be taught from a very early age, 72% of Europeans support this objective and 77% believe it should be a political priority. More than half of Europeans (53%) use a foreign language at work and 45% think they got a better job in their own country thanks to their foreign language skills.
However, in a separate European Commission study, tests carried out among teenage pupils in 14 European countries show that only 42% are competent in their first foreign language and just 25% in their second. The proportion of pupils who are competent in their first foreign language ranges from 82% in Malta and Sweden (where English is the first foreign language) to only 14% in France (learning English) and 9% in England (learning French).
The Commission wants to step up support for language learning through the Erasmus for All programme, launched in 2011. Language learning is one of its six specific objectives and the Commission plans to boost funding for language courses for people wishing to study, train or volunteer abroad. The Commission will propose a European benchmark on language competences by the end of 2012.
The survey is available at