Representation in United Kingdom

English remains the top foreign language studied by Europeans, but the number of British teens studying a foreign language is low



Data from a report released by the Commission today shows that 90% of primary and secondary school students in Europe study English. However, the UK scores a less flattering record in language learning. Less than half of its upper secondary students in general education study foreign languages. This is the lowest by far in Europe.


In three countries – Malta, Liechtenstein and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - all students learn English. In some countries like France, Italy or Poland students learn it at all levels of primary and secondary education. In lower secondary education more students learn English than the next three languages French, Spanish and German combined. English is not the predominant foreign language only in two countries – the UK and Ireland – where the most commonly studied foreign language is French.

More than half (51%) of students in general upper secondary education in the UK do not study any foreign language. The other country with low intake in foreign languages at this level of education is Norway – 33%. The UK is the only country among those covered by the report where learning of a foreign language is not compulsory for this age group.*

The report analyses data from all the EU countries as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey. It looks into all aspects of language teaching and learning, including support for children from migrant families. One of its findings shows that  the UK has a similar to the EU average – about 9% - number of students who are in schools where more than a quarter of the children have a different mother tongue than the language spoken at school.

The main conclusion of the report is that in 2017 children across Europe start learning a foreign language at an earlier age. However, although the time in the curriculum dedicated to teaching foreign languages increases, it still remains low  - between five and ten percent.

*Language learning is not compulsory at any level in Ireland.