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Two Eurobarometer and Commission surveys on foreign language skilss
European citizens believe that “it’s very important” to speak foreign languages (for professional reasons, for travel…). However the first survey on their language skills revealed “widespread lack of competence”. These are the findings of Eurobarometer and EU Commission surveys. Thus, amidst Europe’s cultural diversity and political integration, language skills risk remaining a hanging problem.
Opinions and statistics. “Almost nine out of ten EU citizens believe that the ability to speak foreign languages is very useful and 98% say that mastering languages will be good for the future of their children”. These are the findings of a Eurobarometer survey called “Europeans and their language skills”. Moreover, the first “European Survey on Language Competences” commissioned by the EU Executive (both available on the respective websites) highlights “that there is a gap between aspirations and reality when it comes to foreign language skills in practice: tests carried out among teenage pupils in 14 European countries show that only 42% are competent in their first foreign language and “just 25% in their second”. A significant number, 14% in the case of the first foreign language and 20% in the second, do not achieve even the level of ‘basic user’.
Appointment in Limassol. Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth who put this commitment on the top of her agenda, said: “This Eurobarometer survey shows that multilingualism and language learning matter a great deal to people and that is something we should rejoice in”. “Being able to communicate in a foreign language broadens your horizons and opens doors; it makes you more employable and, in the case of businesses, it can open up more opportunities in the Single Market”, pointed out the Cyrpiot Commissioner, who speaks Greek (her mother tongue), English and French. “We must do more to improve the teaching and learning of languages”. The Commission is preparing a set of operative proposals to step up language skills in the EU that will be presented by 2012. The same topic has become one of the pillars of the EU Program “Erasmus for all”. The findings of the Eurobarometer and Commission surveys will be discussed on the occasion of the International Conference of Limassol (Cyprus) scheduled to take place next September 26, that will coincide with the next European Language Day.
Promoting study. The approach of the EU – with 23 official languages – is to promote the teaching of foreign languages from a very early age, and then across the entire study cycle until university and beyond (according to the lifelong learning principle). “Ten years on from the 2002 Barcelona declaration by Heads of State and Government, who called for at least two foreign languages to be taught from a very early age, Europeans are widely aware of the benefits of multilingualism”, states a release by the EU Commission. Eurobarometer findings show that almost three quarters (72%) agree with this objective “and 77% believe it should be a political priority”. More than half of Europeans (53%) use languages at work and 45% think they got a better job in their own country thanks to their foreign language skills. Moreover (and thus emerges a curiosity linked to the expansion of EU borders and to the historical process of the post-Berlin Wall) the number of European citizens “who say they can communicate in a foreign language has fallen slightly, from 56% to 54%. This is partly due to the fact that Russian and German are no longer compulsory in school curricula in Central and Eastern countries”.
More curiosities. In some places speaking more than one language has become – for historical, cultural or economic reasons – part of the daily life of the Country. For example, in Malta and Sweden a large proportion of students are competent in English, and so are adults and a large number of senior citizens. Conversely, in Great Britain only 10% learn a foreign language (French). The EU Commission survey reveals that according to the distribution of EU population “the most widely spoken mother tongue is German (16%), followed by Italian and English (13% each), French (12%), then Spanish and Polish (8% each)”. Moreover, one of the most evident changes of the past ten years is linked to the fact that the Internet has encouraged people to expand their foreign language reading and listening skills, notably English.