Even though I am American, I went to my fair share of Erasmus parties in the past. At one party, a young man told a joke. I forget exactly how it went, but the punchline was that Europeans spoke multiple languages but Americans spoke only one. I told him I thought that was an unfair characterization. Actually, I believe I said that in Spanish, but he just laughed.
Stereotypes, jokes and anecdotal evidence aside though, how many languages do Europeans actually speak? (Rest assured that Americans will be the subject of a future post!)
Officially, there are 24 languages in the European Union: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish, although other languages are spoken there as well.
While 46% of Europeans speak only one language, the majority of Europeans actually do speak more than one language. 54% of Europeans are able to converse in one or more foreign languages and 10% of Europeans are impressively able to converse in at least three or more foreign languages.
Not all European countries have the same levels of foreign language learning and achievement though. The Guardian cited the European countries with the most and least monolingual speakers. People from Luxembourg, Latvia, the Netherlands, Malta, Slovenia and Lithuania show an impressive rate of language acquisition: over 90% of them speak one or more foreign languages in addition to their native language. On the other hand, 65% of Hungarians, 62% of Italians, 61% of Brits, 61% of Portuguese and 60% of Irish people speak only one language.
By far, the most popular foreign language among Europeans is English with 38% of them opting to learn the language of Shakespeare. The next most popular foreign languages are French, German, Spanish and Russian, which have been chosen as the foreign languages to learn by 12%, 11%, 7% and 5% of Europeans respectively. English is the most popular foreign language throughout Western Europe, but the British Isles prefer to learn French and the Baltic States still opt to learn Russian.
How many languages do you speak?