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26th Jan 2020

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Fewer EU pupils being taught two foreign languages

  • School in Romania, where in 2015 95.2 percent of pupils in lower secondary level were taught two or more foreign languages

The share of EU citizens learning a foreign language at lower secondary level has remained the same in 2015, but learning two foreign languages has become slightly less common, according to figures released by Eurostat on Thursday (23 February).

In 2015, 58.8 percent of all EU pupils at lower secondary level were being taught two or more languages at school. A year earlier, that figure was 59.9 percent.

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The downward trend in Germany (from 39.1% to 34.5%) and Italy (98.4% to 95.8%) helped pull the EU average down.

Other countries where the share of pupils learning two foreign languages went down were Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia - although in some cases the drop was less than a percentage point, and eight of those countries were already above the EU average.

"The slight decrease from 2014 to 2015 is due mainly to a decrease in Germany of nearly 5 percentage points - in fact, at EU level the 2015 level equals the 2013 level," EU commission spokeswoman Nathalie Vandystadt told EUobserver.

"In other words, there has not been any significant development in language teaching at lower secondary level," she added.

The EU average excluded the United Kingdom, for which no data has been available this year or last year. Eurostat, a European Commission branch, did not have 2015 data for Denmark and Greece.

Eurostat also counts official languages of a country as foreign.

The share of pupils learning at least one foreign language at lower secondary level remained the same: 98.6 percent.

There were no shifts in the three most popular languages, with English still being taught to 97.3 percent of the pupils. French was second, on 33.8 percent, and German was third on 23.1 percent.

Spanish, taught to 13.1 percent in 2014, was taught to 13.6 percent of pupils a year later.

EU leaders agreed in 2002 that at least two foreign languages should be taught at a very early age.

In 2005 the Commission said in a strategy paper that its “long-term objective is to increase individual multilingualism until every citizen has practical skills in at least two languages in addition to his or her mother tongue”.

As recently as 2014, national governments published a declaration, saying they should "adopt and improve measures aimed at promoting multilingualism", including by "teaching at least two languages in addition to the main language(s) of instruction from an early age".

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