Foreign language skills statistics

Data extracted in October 2015. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: December 2017.
Table 1: Distribution of people aged 25–64 by knowledge of foreign languages, 2007 and 2011
(%)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l21)
Figure 1: Share of people aged 25–64 reporting they knew one or more foreign languages, 2011 (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l21)
Figure 2: Share of people reporting they knew one or more foreign languages, by age, 2011 (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l22)
Figure 3: Share of people aged 25–64 reporting they knew one or more foreign languages, by educational attainment level, 2011 (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l23)
Figure 4: Share of people aged 25–64 reporting they knew one or more foreign languages, by labour status, 2011 (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l24)
Figure 5: Share of people aged 25–64 reporting they knew one or more foreign languages, by occupation, 2011 (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l25)
Table 2: Distribution of the level of command of the best-known foreign language, 2007 and 2011
(% of people aged 25–64 years who knew at least one foreign language)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l31)
Figure 6: Distribution of the level of command of the best-known foreign language, 2011 (1)
(% of people aged 25–64 years who knew at least one foreign language)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l31)
Figure 7: Distribution of the level of command of the best-known foreign language, EU-28, 2011 (1)
(% of people aged 25–64 years who knew at least one foreign language)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l31), (edat_aes_l32), (edat_aes_l33), (edat_aes_l34) and (edat_aes_l35)
Figure 8: Share of people reporting they were proficient in their best-known foreign language, by age, 2011 (1)
(% of people who knew at least one foreign language)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l32)
Figure 9: Share of people aged 25–64 reporting they were proficient in their best-known foreign language, by educational attainment level, 2011 (1)
(% of people who knew at least one foreign language)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l33)
Figure 10: Share of people aged 25–64 reporting they were proficient in their best-known foreign language, by labour status, 2011 (1)
(% of people who knew at least one foreign language)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l34)
Figure 11: Share of people aged 25–64 reporting they were proficient in their best-known foreign language, by occupation, 2011 (1)
(% of people who knew at least one foreign language)
Source: Eurostat (edat_aes_l35)

This article presents an overview of European Union (EU) statistics related to self-reported foreign language skills. It provides information on the number of foreign languages known, as well as levels of command/proficiency. The data are analysed by age, sex, level of educational attainment, labour status and occupation. Note that there is no information available for the 2011 reference period from Croatia [1], Romania or the United Kingdom and that data for other EU Member States may be missing depending upon the type of analysis being conducted.

This article is one of a set of statistical articles forming part of an online publication on education and training; it provides a complement to information on foreign language learning statistics. The data presented in this article are all derived from the adult education survey (AES).

Main statistical findings

Number of foreign languages known

Around two thirds of working-aged adults in the EU knew at least one foreign language

In 2011, just over one third (34.3 %) of the working-age adults (defined here as 25–64 year-olds) in the EU-28 reported that they did not know any foreign languages. A slightly higher proportion (35.8 %) reported that they knew one foreign language, while just over one fifth (21.1 %) knew two foreign languages, and fewer than one tenth (8.8 %) of all working-age adults knew three or more foreign languages.

An analysis by sex reveals that there was almost no gender gap in relation to foreign language skills. In 2011, the same proportion of working-age men and women in the EU-28 did not know any foreign language. A slightly higher share of men knew only one foreign language (37.0 %) compared with the corresponding share for women (34.7 %). However, the share of women who knew two foreign languages (21.9 %) was 1.5 percentage points higher than that for men, and the share of women who knew three or more foreign languages (9.3 %) was also higher than that recorded for men (8.2 %).

What constitutes a foreign language?

Interest in foreign language skills centres on the ability of Europeans to communicate in an efficient way: with information collected in relation to the most commonly used languages and levels of language competence/skill. When conducting the adult education survey (AES) respondents are asked to name the language(s) they use as their mother tongue. They are subsequently asked to provide information on other languages that they may know.

A ‘mother tongue’ is understood to mean the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the individual at the time of the adult education survey (AES). In bilingual homes, the language of either the father or of the mother could be the most dominant, in the sense that it is used for in-house communication, or it could be that both the languages of the mother and father are used, in which case the respondent has more than one ‘mother tongue’.

Note there are cases among the EU Member States where there is more than one ‘official language’ — for example, in Belgium there are three (German, French and Dutch). However, it is not necessarily the case that these official languages coincide with the ‘mother tongue(s)’ of the respondent and if they only speak one of these at home, then the others are considered (for the purpose of this article) as foreign languages.

In a similar vein, a relatively large proportion of people living in the EU were not born in the Member State where they are resident. Many of these people may well have a different mother tongue from the official language(s) where they are resident, for example, a person who has Russian as their mother tongue living in the United Kingdom. When the survey is conducted this person should reply that Russian is their ‘mother tongue’, while (for the purpose of this article) English would be considered as a foreign language (given the respondent had some knowledge of the English language).

It is important to note that — in spite of the existence of these rules to be applied when collecting the AES data — countries may also implement national preferences when building their questionnaires. The following specificities in particular have been reported to Eurostat about the national collection of foreign languages:

  • Slovakia and Czech Republic: Slovakian is not considered as a foreign language in the Czech survey, while Czech is considered as a foreign language in the Slovakian survey.
  • Bulgaria: Bulgarian was considered as a foreign language for people not speaking Bulgarian as their first mother tongue in the 2007 AES, but not anymore in the 2011 AES.

Almost three quarters of the adult working-age population in Luxembourg knew three or more foreign languages

The extent of multilingualism differed considerably between the 25 EU Member States for which data are available in 2011. The share of the adult working-age population who reported that they knew three or more foreign languages peaked at 72.0 % in Luxembourg, while the next highest shares were recorded in Finland (49.2 %) and Slovenia (44.9 %). In contrast, less than 2.0 % of the adult working-age populations of Ireland and Hungary reported that they knew three or more foreign languages.

In 2011, more than half of the adult working-age populations of Bulgaria (61.1 %), Hungary (63.2 %) and Ireland (72.7 %) reported that they did not know any foreign language. Note also that in 2007 there was a high share (69.6 %) of the adult working-age population in Romania who reported they did not have any foreign language skills. In contrast, there were seven EU Member States in 2011 where less than 10.0 % of the population reported that they knew no foreign languages. Among these, the lowest shares were recorded in Lithuania and Luxembourg, where less than 3.0 % reported that they did not know any foreign language.

Upwards of 9 out of every 10 individuals of working-age knew at least one foreign language in the Nordic Member States and two of the Baltic Member States as well as in Luxembourg and Slovenia

In 14 of the 25 EU Member States for which data are available in 2011, more than three quarters of the adult working-age population reported that they knew at least one foreign language. At least 9 out of every 10 adults of working-age reported that they knew at least one foreign language in Luxembourg (99.0 %), Lithuania (97.3 %), Latvia (94.9 %), Denmark (94.1 %), Slovenia (92.5 %), Finland (91.8 %) and Sweden (91.8 %).

Figure 1 provides an analysis of the extent of multilingualism in the EU Member States. The very high proportion of working-age adults in Luxembourg who reported speaking at least three foreign languages may, at least in part, reflect the local administrative (where there are three official languages) and education systems (where most pupils receive instruction in Luxembourgish, German and French at a primary level of education, with English and other languages being introduced at secondary level). Luxembourg also has a high share of foreign nationals working in an international environment: in 2011, some 41.4 % of the resident population aged 25–64 was born in a foreign country.

Some of the other EU Member States that displayed high degrees of multilingualism in 2011 are characterised by their geographical and linguistic proximity. For example, it is relatively common for people from some of the Nordic, Baltic, and eastern EU Member States to understand the languages of some of their neighbours. Some Member States have more than one official language: for example, there are three in Belgium (German, French and Dutch) and two in Finland (Finnish and Swedish), while minority languages exist in others, for example, in Slovenia the official language is Slovenian, with Italian and Hungarian considered as co-official languages.

Analysis of those knowing one or more foreign languages

There appears to be a clear generation gap favouring younger people in relation to self-reported foreign language skills. Figure 2 presents information related to those people who reported they knew at least one foreign language with an analysis by age group.

Younger people tended to report greater foreign language skills …

In 2011, more than three quarters (77.2 %) of the EU-28’s population aged 25–34 reported that they knew at least one foreign language. This share fell for each successive age group, with the lowest proportion recorded among those aged 55–64. Nevertheless, more than half (52.4 %) of the age group 55–64 declared that they knew at least one foreign language.

This gap between the generations was most pronounced among those EU Member States that reported a relatively low share of their adult working-age populations knowing at least one foreign language. In Greece, 79.1 % of the population who were aged 25–34 reported that they knew at least one foreign language, compared with a share of less than one third (30.8 %) among those aged 55–64 — a difference of 48.3 percentage points. Based on the same comparison (between the youngest and oldest age groups), there were also considerable generation gaps (36–39 percentage points difference) in foreign language skills in Italy, Hungary and Portugal.

In contrast, this gap between the generations was relatively small in those EU Member States where a high proportion of the adult working-age population knew at least one foreign language. Lithuania was the only EU Member State where the share of the older generation (those aged 55–64) who knew at least one foreign language was higher than the corresponding share for the youngest age group (those aged 25–34), with a gap of 2.2 percentage points. In Lithuania and Latvia (and Estonia to a lesser degree), the relatively high proportion of older persons who speak at least one foreign language may reflect the fact that the older generations learnt Russian, whereas the younger generations learnt English.

… as did those with a tertiary level of education …

Aside from a generational gap, there also appears to be an educational gap in relation to foreign language skills as shown for the adult working-age population (25–64 years-old) in Figure 3. In 2011, almost 9 out of 10 (88.4 %) people in the EU-28 who had completed a tertiary level of education (ISCED 1997 levels 5 and 6) reported that they knew at least one foreign language. The corresponding share among those with an intermediate level of education (ISCED levels 3 and 4) was approximately two thirds (67.3 %), falling to 38.9 % among those with a low level of education (ISCED levels 0–2).

In 2011, more than 90 % of the adult working-age population with a tertiary level of education knew at least one foreign language in the majority of the EU Member States for which data are available (see Figure 3 for coverage). Some 75–85 % of those with a tertiary level of education knew at least one foreign language in all but one of the remaining Member States, while in Ireland less than half (46.0 %) of this subgroup knew at least one foreign language.

In 2011, there were seven EU Member States where at least three quarters of the adult working-age population with a low level of education reported that they knew at least one foreign language. In contrast, there were 11 Member States where less than half of the population with a low level of education knew at least one foreign language, a share that fell to less than 10 % in Hungary, Bulgaria and Ireland.

As for the analysis by age, the gap in foreign language skills between the different levels of education was most pronounced for those EU Member States which had a relatively low share of their adult working-age populations knowing at least one foreign language. This was particularly true in Bulgaria, Greece, Poland and Hungary, where the share of the population with a tertiary level of education who reported they knew at least one foreign language was 70–73 percentage points higher than the corresponding share among those with a low level of education.

… and those who were in employment

Figure 4 provides an analysis with a breakdown according to labour status. In 2011, 71.1 % of the EU-28’s adult working-age population who were employed reported that they knew at least one foreign language. This proportion fell among those who were unemployed to 56.4 %, while the corresponding share among economically inactive persons — those outside of the labour force — was 53.3 %. These figures may support the view that, at least for some jobs, employers are keen to engage people who have some foreign language skills, or to promote the learning of foreign languages as part of a training strategy for their staff.

The gap in foreign language skills between people in different labour market situations was most pronounced for those EU Member States which had a relatively low share of their adult working-age populations (aged 25–64) knowing at least one foreign language. In 2011, approximately three quarters of the economically inactive people in Bulgaria and Hungary did not know any foreign language, while there were seven other EU Member States where more than half of the economically inactive population reported no foreign language skills. Just over half of the unemployed persons in Belgium and Spain did not know a foreign language, while in Bulgaria and Hungary this share rose to almost three quarters of the unemployed.

Bulgaria and Hungary were also the only EU Member States (among those for which data are available in 2011) to report that less than half of those in employment (aged 25–64) knew at least one foreign language. By contrast, there were eight EU Member States where more than 9 out of 10 employed persons knew at least one foreign language, with this share passing above 95 % in Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg.

A high proportion of managers, professionals, technicians and associate professionals declared that they knew at least one foreign language

The final analysis presented in this section relates to the proportion of people aged 25–64 who reported they knew at least one foreign language, broken down by occupation. In 2011, 84.9 % of all managers, professionals, technicians and associate professionals in the EU-28 knew at least one foreign language. Corresponding shares were also relatively high among clerical support, service and sales workers (70.6 %), whereas approximately half of those employed as skilled manual workers (54.5 %) or in elementary occupations (51.0 %) knew at least one foreign language; the latter group covers those providing domestic help, cleaners, refuse collectors, as well as those who manually assemble components, sort, pack or deliver goods.

A majority of the managers, professionals, technicians and associate professionals working in each of the EU Member States for which data are available in 2011 (see Figure 5 for coverage) reported that they knew at least one foreign language. In contrast, there were nine EU Member States where more than half of the skilled manual workers did not know any foreign language (the highest share being in Hungary, at 75.4 %), and there were 10 EU Member States where more than half of those with an elementary occupation did not know any foreign language (the highest share was in Hungary, at 84.3 %).The biggest gaps in foreign language skills between occupations tended to be observed in those EU Member States which had a relatively low share of their adult working-age populations knowing at least one foreign language.

Level of command of best known foreign language

The following section examines the level of command, or proficiency, of foreign language skills within the EU. Note that the data presented refers to self-reported proficiency for those who knew at least one foreign language. Furthermore, the measure of proficiency is given only in relation to the best-known foreign language in those cases where a person knows more than one foreign language.

The share of those declaring they were proficient in their best-known foreign language increased between 2007 and 2011 …

In the EU-28, almost one quarter (23.4 %) of working-age adults who knew at least one foreign language reported that they knew their best-known foreign language at a proficient level. Table 2 presents the level of foreign language skills among adults of working-age in 2007 and 2011. Within the EU-28, the share who declared that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language rose by 2.3 percentage points over the period under consideration, from 21.1 % in 2007.

There was a larger increase between 2007 and 2011 in the proportion of people in the EU-28 who declared they were good at their best-known foreign language, as this share rose from approximately one quarter (25.5 %) to one third (32.7 %). In contrast, the proportion of working-age adults who declared they were fair in their best-known foreign language fell from 53.3 % to 43.9 %.

… but the situation is quite different from one country to another …

Between 2007 and 2011 the share of working-age adults who declared that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language fell in 9 out of the 20 EU Member States for which data are available (see Table 2 for coverage); the largest reductions were recorded in Slovenia and Slovakia. In contrast, there was a relatively fast increase in the share of individuals who declared that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language in Bulgaria (note there is a break in series; see ‘Data sources and availability’ for more details), Cyprus and Finland.

In 2011, almost three quarters (72.6 %) of the population in Luxembourg declared that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language (see Figure 6). Latvia (54.4 %) and Malta (52.6 %) were the only other EU Member States among the 25 for which data are available to report that more than half of their working-age populations declared they were proficient in their best-known foreign language.

In contrast, there were six EU Member States in 2011 where fewer than one fifth of the individuals who knew at least one foreign language declared that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language: France, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Greece and Poland (where the lowest share was recorded, at 12.7 %). Although there is no recent data available for the United Kingdom, data for 2007 show that only 11.5 % of the adult working-age population declared that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language. While this was below the lowest share for 2011 (recorded in Poland), a comparison with the other Member States for 2007 shows that slightly lower levels of proficiency were recorded in France, the Czech Republic, Italy and Poland in that year.

Analysis of those who consider themselves proficient in their best known foreign language

Figure 7, on the one hand, provides an overview for the EU-28 of the different analyses of foreign language proficiency. Figures 8–11, on the other, provide information for the EU Member States.

Focusing on those individuals aged 25–64 in the EU-28 who spoke at least one foreign language in 2011, the highest degrees of foreign language proficiency by sex, age, level of education, labour market status and occupation were recorded for those who were male, young (25–34 years-old), tertiary-educated, employed, and occupied as a manager, professional, technician or associate professional.

A higher proportion of people aged 25–34 were proficient in their best-known foreign language …

In 2011, the share of individuals who reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language was generally higher among younger age groups. For the whole of the EU-28, more than one quarter (27.6 %) of the population aged 25–34 reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language, compared with only 18.8 % of the population aged 55–64.

This pattern was repeated across most of the 25 EU Member States for which data are available. The highest share of foreign language proficiency was recorded for those aged 25–34 in all but seven of the EU Member States. The exceptions were the three Baltic Member States, Slovakia, Greece, Spain and France. Note that several of these were particularly affected by the global financial and economic crisis and that the lower shares of foreign language proficiency among the youngest generation may reflect, at least to some degree, labour mobility among highly-qualified individuals who were proficient in foreign languages.

At the other end of the range, those aged 55–64 recorded the lowest shares of foreign language proficiency in all but four of the EU Member States for which data are available in 2011; the only exceptions were Estonia, Lithuania, Spain and Hungary.

… a pattern that was repeated for those with a tertiary level of education …

Across the EU-28 there was a clear link between foreign language proficiency and levels of educational attainment. This may, at least in part, be explained by some tertiary students improving their foreign language proficiency as a result of having to continue their foreign language studies during tertiary education, while others may choose or be required to follow courses whose instruction is given in a foreign language.

In 2011, almost one third (33.1 %) of the EU-28’s working-age population with a tertiary level of education reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language. This was almost twice as high as the share (17.2 %) of proficient linguists recorded among those with an intermediate level of education, while almost one fifth (19.3 %) of those with a low level of education reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language.

An analysis across the EU Member States shows that the share of individuals who reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language was consistently higher among those with a tertiary level of education, irrespective of whether a comparison was made against those with an intermediate or even lower level of education. This pattern held across each of the EU Member States for which data are available in 2011. This educational gap was particularly evident in Cyprus and Malta where the share of individuals who reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language was more than 50 percentage points higher for those with a tertiary level of education than for those with a low level of education. The largest differences in linguistic proficiency between those with a tertiary and an intermediate level of education were recorded in Austria, Slovenia and Cyprus.

… and those who were employed

Figure 10 shows that employed persons tended to have a higher level of foreign language proficiency. In 2011, almost one quarter (24.2 %) of those aged 25–64 in the EU-28 who were employed and who knew at least one foreign language reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language. The corresponding shares recorded for unemployed persons (21.6 %) and economically inactive persons (20.7 %) were somewhat lower.

In a majority of the 24 EU Member States for which data are available in 2011, it was common to find that employed persons had the highest level of foreign language proficiency when compared with the shares recorded among unemployed and economically inactive persons of the same age.

In 2011, the gap in levels of foreign language proficiency between people with different labour market status was most pronounced for those EU Member States which had the highest levels of proficiency. This was particularly true in Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Cyprus and Lithuania, where the share of employed individuals who reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language was 16–20 percentage points higher than the lowest share (recorded either for the unemployed or for economically inactive persons). There were however some exceptions to this general pattern, as there were seven EU Member States where a higher share of unemployed people (rather than employed people) reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language; this was the case in Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Slovakia, Estonia, France and Denmark. In a similar vein, more than one quarter (26.2 %) of the economically inactive persons in Germany reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign-language, which was 2.0 percentage points higher than the share recorded among employed persons.

Figure 11 presents information relating to the share of working-age adults who reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language, with an analysis by occupation. In 2011, the highest share (30.0 %) of foreign language proficiency in the EU-28 was recorded for managers, professionals, technicians and associate professionals. This was considerably higher than for the other three occupations shown in Figure 11, as around one fifth of those employed in elementary occupations (20.1 %) and clerical support, service and sales (19.2 %) reported that they were proficient in their best-known foreign language, while this share fell to 16.1 % among skilled manual workers.

Data sources and availability

Key concepts

Within the adult education survey (AES) of 2011, three levels of foreign language knowledge were identified:

  • Fair — “I can understand and use the most common everyday expressions. I use the language in relation to familiar things and situations”;
  • Good — “I can understand the essential of clear language and produce simple text. I can describe experiences and events and communicate fairly fluently”;
  • Proficient — “I can understand a wide range of demanding texts and use the language flexibly. I master the language almost completely”.

Note that the AES of 2007 had a fourth level of foreign language knowledge:

  • Basic — “I only understand and can use a few words”.

In order to facilitate comparisons between 2007 and 2011 the information collected for this fourth category in 2007 has been added to the category covering ‘fair’.

Data source

The adult education survey (AES) is the source of all information in this article. Among others, the AES provides information on self-reported foreign language skills, in contrast to foreign language qualifications that may be obtained within the formal education system or from specialist language schools. It focuses on people aged 25–64 living in private households and the reference period is the 12-months prior to the respondent’s interview. Note that there is no information available for the 2011 reference period from Croatia, Romania or the United Kingdom.

Two waves of the AES have been implemented so far, in 2007 and 2011. The former was a pilot exercise and was carried out on a voluntary basis, while the 2011 AES was underpinned by a legal act (Commission Regulation (EU) No 823/2010).

Specific breaks in series: two countries in particular reported a methodological break between the 2007 AES and the 2011 AES.

  • Bulgaria: In the 2007 AES the relative share of people aged 25-64 knowing a foreign language was overestimated in Bulgaria in 2007 because Bulgarian was considered as a foreign language for people not speaking Bulgarian as their first mother tongue in the 2007 AES. This was changed in the Bulgarian 2011 AES resulting in a lower share of people aged 25-64 knowing a foreign language;
  • Belgium: the 2007 AES was a stand-alone self-completion survey and people that have participated in education and training activities were more inclined to answer the questionnaire (non-participants would more easily tend to not send any response). Therefore the profile of the respondents was slightly specific ('active learners') which could have led to a bias in the share of people knowing foreign languages. In the 2011 AES, the intervention of interviewers explaining the purpose of the questionnaire before self-completion lead to a better representativeness of the whole population which can account for a lower share for people being able to speak foreign languages.

Note on symbols used in tables

The colon (‘:’) is used to show where data are not available.

An italic font is used to show where data are forecasted, provisional or estimated (and are therefore likely to change in the future).

Context

The modern world is increasingly characterised by interactions that extend well beyond the confines of national borders. Within the EU, this development can be seen for example in the single market and the free movement of individuals. On a wider scale, globalisation, economic growth in developing economies, and improved transport infrastructure have resulted, among others, in a considerable shift in world trading patterns and a higher proportion of the world’s population being able to visit other countries, whether for business, pleasure or other reasons.

Language and cultural barriers are two aspects which restrict the level of geographic mobility within the EU. By contrast, foreign language skills have the potential to increase the mobility, employability and personal development of Europeans. Indeed, they can give individuals a competitive advantage in labour markets: this is particularly true for those working in senior management, multinational firms or sales and marketing.

English language skills are well-established as an important (business) skill, and English is by far the most widely-spoken foreign language in the EU. Alongside the importance of English, in a world of increasing international exchanges, the ability to speak other foreign languages is of particular importance in large markets where there is relatively little English spoken — for example, in China, Brazil or Russia.

In September 2008, the European Commission adopted a Communication titled ‘Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment’ (COM(2008) 566 final), which was followed in November 2008 by a Council Resolution on a European strategy for multilingualism (2008/C 320/01). These addressed languages in the wider context of social cohesion and prosperity and focused on actions to encourage and assist citizens in acquiring language skills. The Resolution invited the EU Member States and the European Commission to:

  • promote multilingualism with a view to strengthening social cohesion, intercultural dialogue and European construction;
  • strengthen lifelong language learning;
  • promote (better) multilingualism as a factor in the European economy’s competitiveness and people’s mobility and employability;
  • promote linguistic diversity and intercultural dialogue by increasing assistance for translation, in order to encourage the circulation of works and the dissemination of ideas and knowledge in Europe and across the world;
  • promote EU languages across the world.

The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) provides a common set of objectives for EU Member States and seeks to:

  • enable citizens to communicate in two languages in addition to their mother tongue;
  • promote language teaching in vocational education and training (VET) and for adult learners;
  • give migrants the opportunity to learn the language of their host country.

Rethinking education: investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes’ (COM(2012) 0669 final) was adopted by the European Commission in 2012. It promotes a range of ideas, including that the ability to speak a foreign language:

  • is an important factor for competitiveness;
  • is an important attribute for those seeking work;
  • may remove an obstacle to free movement;

The Communication also called on several EU Member States to improve their capacity for providing adequate teaching resources for basic skills (that include numeracy, literacy and foreign languages). A European Commission staff working document titled Language competences for employability, mobility and growth (SWD(2012) 372 final) accompanied the release of the ‘Rethinking education’ Communication. One section of the document looked at foreign language skills as a means for enhancing employability, mobility and growth. It emphasised the importance of raising the general level of foreign language skills, broadening the range of foreign languages taught, and re-orienting teaching content towards professional purposes.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Publications

News releases

Statistical books

Database

Languages (educ_lang)
Self-reported language skills (educ_lang_00)
Number of foreign languages known (edat_aes_I2)
Number of foreign languages known (self-reported) by sex (edat_aes_l21)
Number of foreign languages known (self-reported) by age (edat_aes_l22)
Number of foreign languages known (self-reported) by educational attainment level (edat_aes_l23)
Number of foreign languages known (self-reported) by labour status (edat_aes_l24)
Number of foreign languages known (self-reported) by occupation (edat_aes_l25)
Number of foreign languages known (self-reported) by degree of urbanisation (edat_aes_l26)
Level of best-known foreign language (edat_aes_I3)
Level of the best-known foreign language (self-reported) by sex (edat_aes_l31)
Level of the best-known foreign language (self-reported) by age (edat_aes_l32)
Level of the best-known foreign language (self-reported) by educational attainment level (edat_aes_l33)
Level of the best-known foreign language (self-reported) by labour status (edat_aes_l34)
Level of the best-known foreign language (self-reported) by occupation (edat_aes_l35)
Level of the best-known foreign language (self-reported) by degree of urbanisation (edat_aes_l36)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and graphs (MS Excel)

External links

Notes

  1. Ireland and Luxembourg did not participate in the 2007 adult education survey; Croatia did not participate in the 2011 adult education survey.