The FINANCIAL -- In 2014, more than 18 million primary school pupils (or 84% of all the pupils at this level) in the European Union (EU) were studying at least one foreign language, including nearly 1 million (around 5%) studying two foreign languages or more. At primary level, English was by far the most popular language, studied by over 17 million pupils.
The dominance of English is confirmed at the lower secondary level (pupils aged around 11-15 depending on the national educational system) with over 17 million pupils in the EU learning English as a foreign language (97% of all the pupils at this level) in 2014. French (5 million or 34% of the relevant population) came second, followed by German (3 million or 23%), Spanish (2 million or 13%), Russian (0.5 million or 3%) and Italian (0.2 million or 1%).
On the occasion of the European Day of Languages, celebrated each year on 26 September, Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, publishes data on language learning at school. Currently there are 24 official languages recognised within the EU. In addition there are regional languages, minority languages, and languages spoken by migrant populations. It should also be noted that several EU Member States have more than one official language.
Less than half of primary school pupils study a foreign language in Portugal, Belgium and Slovenia
All or nearly all pupils at primary level in 2014 attended foreign language classes in Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta (all 100.0%), Croatia, Italy and Austria (all 99.9%), Spain (99.5%), as well as in France (99.0%) and Poland (97.7%). At EU level, this share stood at 83.7%. In some Member States, young pupils were studying two or more foreign languages, particularly in Luxembourg (83.5%), followed at a distance by Estonia (32.6%) and Greece (28.7%). In contrast, less than half of primary school pupils were studying a foreign language in 2014 in Portugal (36.2%), Belgium (37.0%) and Slovenia (48.4%).
English is the most common foreign language studied at primary level in every EU Member State, except Belgium and Luxembourg, both multilingual countries. The second most common foreign language gives a more varied picture. German, which is the most learnt foreign language in Luxembourg, was the second main foreign language studied by primary school pupils in eight other Member States, with the highest shares of learners recorded in Hungary (20.1%) and Croatia (20.0%). French occupied this position on the EU level and in seven Member States, with the largest proportions being notably recorded in Luxembourg (83.5%), Greece (16.1%) and Romania (13.2%).
French ranked second at lower secondary level
English, which is mandatory in several countries, was studied in 2014 by an overwhelming majority of pupils at lower secondary level in almost all EU Member States. Only in Belgium (46.3%), Luxembourg (54.0%), Hungary (69.3%) and Bulgaria (87.2%) was the share of pupils learning English below 90%.
French was the second most popular foreign language studied at lower secondary level in the EU. The highest proportions of pupils learning French as a foreign language were registered in Luxembourg (100.0%), Cyprus (88.1%) and Romania (84.6%). French was widely studied as a foreign language also in Italy (67.7%), Portugal (64.7%), Ireland (60.0%) and the Netherlands (57.2%).
German – the third most popular foreign language in the EU at lower secondary level – was particularly taught in Luxembourg (100.0%), Denmark (73.6%), Poland (69.0%), Slovakia (55.2%) and the Netherlands (51.1%).
Spanish was popular in Sweden (43.9% of lower secondary school pupils), followed by France (37.8%), Italy (22.0%), Portugal (20.8%) and Ireland (15.4%), while Italian was mainly taught in Malta (59.8%) and Croatia (11.6%).
Russian, the most popular non-EU language at lower secondary level in the EU (almost 0.5 million learners), was most commonly studied in the Baltic Member States – Lithuania (66.7%), Estonia (64.7%) Latvia (60.4%) – as well as in Slovakia (21.2%) and Bulgaria (17.9%).