Currently there are 24 official languages recognised within the European Union (EU), in addition to which there are regional, minority languages, and languages spoken by migrant populations.
In 1958, legislation specified German, French, Italian and Dutch as the official and working languages of the European Union’s (EU) predecessor, the European Communities. There have always been fewer official languages than EU Member States, as some share common languages, for example in Belgium where the official languages are Dutch, French and German, while in Cyprus the majority of the population speaks Greek. Since Croatia’s accession there are 24 official languages recognised within the EU. In addition there are indigenous regional, minority languages (such as Catalan, Galician and Basque in Spain, or Welsh and Scottish Gaelic in the United Kingdom), and languages that have been brought into the EU by migrant populations, notably Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, Hindi and Chinese.
School and other educational institutions provide the main opportunity for the vast majority of people to learn languages and linguistic diversity is actively encouraged within many further educational establishments and workplaces. This article presents statistics on language learning at primary and secondary schools in the EU Member States, EFTA and candidate countries.
Main statistical findings
Within primary education, a clear majority of pupils (choose to) study English. Indeed, learning English is mandatory in several countries within secondary education institutions, and so a number of EU Member States have close to 100 % of pupils learning this language already in primary education, as shown in Figure 1. The highest shares of primary education pupils studying English in 2011 were recorded in Malta, Spain, Austria, Italy, Greece, Croatia and Poland, with more than nine out of every ten children studying English; this was also the case in Liechtenstein, Norway and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The relative importance of English as a foreign language may be further magnified because pupils tend to receive more instruction in their first foreign language than they do for any subsequent languages they (choose to) study.