New report looks at language teaching in EU schools
By Sophie Petitjean | Thursday 20 September 2012
The age at which students start learning a foreign language is significantly lower today than in the past, according to a report entitled ‘Key data on teaching languages at schools in Europe 2012’, which was published on 20 September. The report shows that the majority of countries or regions have lowered the age of compulsory foreign language learning over the last 15 years and that the average of students in secondary education studying two foreign languages is constantly increasing. Androulla Vassiliou, commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, said: “I am happy to see that even our youngest citizens are being exposed to the joys of discovering foreign languages”.
The report, which is published jointly by Eurydice and Eurostat every three to four years, measures 61 indicators in five categories: context, organisation, participation, teachers and teaching processes. The report shows that children are starting to learn foreign languages between the ages of six and nine – with the German-speaking community in Belgium providing foreign language learning for children as young as three. Nonetheless, the time dedicated to foreign language teaching has not significantly increased and remains rather low compared to other subjects. The report also shows that English is by far the most taught foreign language in nearly all European countries: in lower secondary and general upper secondary education, the percentage of students learning English exceeds 90%. Only a very small percentage of pupils (0-5%, according to the country) learn languages other than English, French, Spanish, German and Russian.
Lastly, the report shows that few countries require their trainee language teachers to spend an immersion period abroad. Indeed, only 53.8 % of foreign language teachers who took part in the recently published European survey on language competences stated that they have spent more than a month studying in a country where the language they teach is spoken. But this average masks a wide variation of approaches. The study was commissioned as part of the ‘mother tongue plus two’ objective set by EU heads of state and government at the Barcelona summit, in March 2002. The goal is for children to be taught at least two languages in addition to their own mother tongue from a very early age.
The importance of language learning will be a focus of the ‘Multilingualism in Europe’ conference, which the Commission is organising in Limassol, Cyprus, on 26-28 September. Furthermore, the Commission’s new ‘Rethinking skills’ strategy, due to be adopted in November, will propose a benchmark on language learning.
The report is available at
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