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Brussels, 10 February 2005

Language teaching: 50% of young Europeans learn a foreign language from primary school onwards

The European network Eurydice[1] has just published the first report, funded by the European Commission, setting out the key figures on language teaching in Europe. This report describes the state of affairs in 30 countries[2] and highlights the increase in recent years in foreign language learning in primary education. Learning two foreign languages from a very early age was one of the recommendations of the Barcelona European Council in March 2002.

“In an enlarged and multilingual Europe, learning foreign languages from a very young age allows us to discover other cultures and better prepare for occupational mobility.” said Ján Figeľ , European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism. “This report will contribute to the discussions and activities of the European Commission and the Member States in relation to the promotion of language learning and linguistic diversity."

The report used harmonised statistical data provided by Eurostat. The sources used come from the States studied, and the reference school year was 2002/2003. In general, the report concerns only languages which are considered foreign languages by central educational authorities. However, regional and/or minority languages are also covered in cases where curricula consider them to be alternatives to foreign languages.

The findings of the report include:

  • In almost all countries, pupils have to learn a foreign language from primary education onwards: in 2002, approximately 50% of all pupils were learning at least one foreign language. This figure has been increasing rapidly since the end of the 1990s, when educational reform took place in a number of countries, particularly in central and eastern Europe, Denmark, Spain, Italy and Iceland;
  • Foreign language teaching is compulsory everywhere, except in Ireland and Scotland. All European pupils have to continue with a foreign language at least until the end of their compulsory education, except in Italy and Wales;
  • While teaching of a second foreign language generally becomes compulsory at secondary level, it is already compulsory at primary level in Luxembourg (80% of pupils are affected), Estonia, Sweden and Iceland;
  • English, French, German, Spanish and Russian account for 95% of the languages learned at secondary level in the majority of countries;
  • English is the most widely-taught language at primary level everywhere apart from Belgium and Luxembourg. The same is true for secondary education, with English having experienced a marked increase in central and eastern European countries between 1998 and 2002. German (in northern, central and eastern Europe) and French (in southern and German-speaking countries) share second place;
  • At primary level, foreign language teaching is generally carried out by non-specialised teachers. Such teaching is the responsibility of language specialists from lower secondary level onwards.

The full text of the report is available at the following address:

For further information:

[1] Eurydice, an information network on education founded in 1980 by the European Commission and the participating States, helps to increase understanding of education policies and systems. Since 1995 it has been an integral part of Socrates, the Community action programme in the field of education.

[2] The 25 Member States of the Union (for Belgium: results for the Flemish, French and German-speaking Communities; for the United Kingdom: England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) + the three EFTA/EEA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) + Bulgaria and Romania.

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