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Key data on school language teaching in Europe

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I have just stumbled across a 2005 Eurydice document providing statistical information about the teaching of languages at school level Europe-wide. It can be accessed at:


If you want to view the online version in English, click EN under "Languages available". If you then want to download the document, wind down the left-hand frame to "Full text to download" and click. It's a compressed folder, more than 3MB in size. It decompresses to over 4MB.

I haven't had time to peruse the publication fully, but it appears to document what was the state of play in school MFL teaching across Europe during 2002-2003. The main finding is that English is dominant and that in some countries its study is mandatory. French and German are the most widely taught second foreign languages. In a significant number of countries, Spanish comes third, but it is the most widely taught second foreign language in France.

Comments, anyone?

David Wilson


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English is becoming the de facto lingua franca of the EU - which is probably one of the reasons why our government plays down the importance of languages. Why invest the money in learning foreign languages when everyone speaks English? No, this is not my personal opinion, of course, but the opinion that seems to be widespread in government circles and in the business world.

I heard a controversial keynote speech by Dr Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz, Germany's former ambassador to the UK, at the European Year of Languages conference in Berlin in July 2001: "Multilinguales Europa: Illusion oder Zukunftschance?" One of the problems alluded to by Dr von Ploetz is that the dominance of English as lingua franca throughout Europe has pushed its main competitors, i.e. French, German, Spanish and Italian, into very poor second places in most European countries. The trend now is to study English plus the language of a neighbouring country in border areas, e.g. Danish in Northern Germany, or French in Northern Spain. This more or less kills off the EC's vision of a multilingual society, especially when one of the major players, the UK, is resolutely monolingual, i.e. the vast majority of UK citizens don't even achieve the CoE Threshold Level in a foreign language, and in the rest of Europe French, German, Spanish and Italian have lost considerable ground.

As usual, I went skiing in Austria in January this year. It's getting more and more difficult to speak German in the Tyrol. The level of English of most people working in the tourism industry is very high, and they always use English as a lingua franca when talking to visitors from Holland, Denmark and Belgium. I can usually persuade the manager of the hotel in which I stay to talk to me in High German, but High German is a foreign language to him and not easy for him to sustain for a lengthy period, so we often end up speaking English or - depending on the number of beers we have drunk - I end up struggling to understand and speak Tyrolean. I have found myself habitually using local words such as "Jänner" for "January" and "heuer" for "this year" - and even "er chimmt" instead of "er kommt".

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