Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools


Brussels, 21 November 2008

EU pupils are learning foreign languages at an earlier age

The European Commission today presented a new study on the teaching of languages at schools in Europe by the Eurydice Network. It gives a comprehensive picture of language teaching, from primary to secondary general education, in the 31 countries involved in the EU's Lifelong Learning programme. Containing around 40 indicators, it shows growing support for language learning in general education, with more learning of a foreign language at an early age. These findings suggest that the participating countries are in tune with today's Council Resolution on a European strategy for multilingualism.

The European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, Ján Figel’, said: "Although we register progress, there is still some way to go to give all students the possibility to learn two foreign languages at school: this is the objective that the Member States fixed for themselves in Barcelona in 2002. Nevertheless, it is now considered one of the eight Key Competences for Lifelong Learning that were recommended by the Council and European Parliament in December 2006."

The European Commissioner for Multilingualism, Leonard Orban added: "Multilingualism is an issue for all of European society. It starts in school and goes much further, as we need to master an increasing number of languages to foster social cohesion and prosperity. This is the subject of the recent Commission Communication, Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment, and I welcome the fact that it is endorsed by today's Council Resolution on Multilingualism."

The data relates to the school year 2006-2007 and covers public sector as well as grant-aided private schools.

Main findings:

1) Teaching of foreign languages starts earlier but the time taught is limited in primary education

Over the past three decades there has been an increase in early learning of a foreign language as a compulsory subject. In almost all European countries, compulsory learning of a foreign language now begins in primary education. While in most cases, children learn a foreign language from the age of 8 to 10 years of age, in some cases, there is even an earlier start: in all autonomous communities of Spain, and in Belgium's German speaking community, children learn a foreign language from the age of 3.

However, the time devoted to foreign language teaching in primary schools remains limited (in general less than 10% of the total taught time) and varies considerably between countries. The amount of time spent on language learning is generally greater in lower secondary education than in primary schools.

2) More countries teach two foreign languages at school

When it comes to teaching at least two foreign languages from a very early age, not all countries have achieved this yet, but the study demonstrates that in most countries it is already possible for pupils in general secondary education.

In 2006-2007, teaching of a foreign language at school for at least one year was compulsory in all the countries involved, except in Ireland and Scotland. In the majority of countries, around half of the pupils in primary education learn at least one foreign language.

3) English is taught to 90% of pupils across Europe

In 13 European countries, English is the mandatory first foreign language. Even when a choice is provided, pupils and their parents tend to favour English, which is now the most widely taught language in primary education. English is learnt by 90% of all European pupils at some stage of their compulsory education. When a second foreign language is taught, French and German are favoured.

4) Few countries recommend mobility as part of teacher education

Language learning is often provided in primary education by general teachers. In secondary education, the degree of specialisation of teachers varies greatly from country to country. The majority of countries covered recommend that teachers' education enables future teachers to teach foreign languages but mobility is the exception rather than the rule.

What is Eurydice?

Eurydice ( is the information network on education in Europe. It provides information on and analyses of European education systems and policies. It consists of 35 national units based in all 31 countries participating in the EU's Lifelong Learning programme (EU Member States, EEA countries and Turkey) and a central coordinating unit in the EU Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency in Brussels.

For more information

The study (available in EN, DE and FR):

Communication on Multilingualism:

Side Bar