In 2015, almost 19 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 1 million (around 5%) who were studying two foreign languages or more.
English was by far the most popular language, studied by 17.5 million pupils (83.5% of the primary school population). French (0.8 million or 4.8%) came second, followed by German (almost 0.7 million or 3.9%), Spanish (0.1 million or 0.6%), Russian (54 thousand or 0.3%) and Italian (33 thousand or 0.2%).
This news item marks the European Day of Languages, celebrated each year on 26 September.
Less than half of primary school pupils study a foreign language in Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and Slovenia
All or nearly all pupils at primary level in 2015 attended foreign language classes in Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta and Austria (all 100%), Croatia (99.9%), Spain (99.4%), and France (99.2%), as well as in Italy (98.6%), Romania (98.3%) and Poland (97.6%). At EU level, this share stood at 84.3%.
In some Member States, young pupils were studying two or more foreign languages, particularly in Luxembourg (83.7%), followed at a distance by Estonia (30.7%) and Greece (28.9%).
In contrast, less than half of primary school pupils were studying a foreign language in 2015 in Portugal (35.4%), Belgium (36.7%), the Netherlands (42.9%) and Slovenia (49.8%).
English clearly dominant
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 Croatia (20.9%) and Hungary (20.2%). 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 (15.8%) and Romania (15.2%).
Belgium: the official state languages are Dutch, French and German; notably French is considered as a foreign language in the Belgian Flemish Community and Flemish (Dutch) is considered as a foreign language in the Belgian French Community. At primary level, the most popular foreign language in the Belgian French Community is Dutch (36.0% of pupils), and in the Belgian Flemish Community, it is French (27.4%).
Estonia: in schools where Estonian is not the language of instruction, Estonian is counted as a foreign language for statistical purposes.
Ireland: in addition to English, all pupils at primary level study Irish. However, Irish is not considered a foreign language. Luxembourg: although the official languages are French, German and Luxembourgish, for the purpose of education statistics, French and German are counted as foreign languages.
Malta: English is an official language alongside Maltese, but for the purpose of education statistics, it is counted as a foreign language.
Slovakia: in schools where Slovakian is not the language of instruction, Slovak is counted as a foreign language for statistical purposes.
Finland: Swedish is an official language alongside Finnish, but for the purpose of education statistics, it is counted as a foreign language.
European Commission Day of Languages website
For data on lower secondary education level, see our Themes in the Spotlight infographic