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Statistics & indicators

How many adults actually speak a foreign language?

63% of EU adults state that they know at least one foreign language. But only 31% say they know it well.

“Improving the overall level of language skills in Europe will contribute to our Europe 2020 strategy for smart and inclusive growth., and multilingualism is a crucial part of our flagship initiatives Youth on the Move and the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs,” said Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, on 26 September, the European Day of Languages.

 

Source: Cedefop’s calculations based on Eurostat, Adult Education Survey
Data for France are provisional

 

Key Points

  • In the EU, 63% of the adult population say they know at least one foreign language. But only 31% say they know it well (at a good or proficient level). An additional 32% say they have more limited knowledge (basic or fair level). 
  • Knowledge of a foreign language is widespread in Lithuania, Sweden, Latvia and Slovakia. In these countries, more than 90% of adults know at least one foreign language and more than two thirds of them know it at a good or proficient level (data based on self reported statements).
  • In Hungary, Bulgaria, and the United Kingdom, less than 20% adults say they know a foreign language at a good or proficient level. When including also basic and fair levels of knowledge, UK and Bulgaria perform slightly better and the countries with the lowest overall percentages are Portugal and Hungary (where less than 50% of adults say they know a foreign language).
  • Young adults are more comfortable with languages. Compared to the EU average of 63%, the knowledge of at least one foreign language rises to 74% for people aged 25 to 34 years and drops to 47% for those between 55 and 64 years.
  • English is the most common foreign language. This also applies in the vast majority of the countries surveyed. Knowledge of Russian is also very common in some Eastern countries, especially among older adults (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia). As a consequence, those countries have lower age differentials with respect to knowledge of at least one foreign language.

The indicator presented here is the share of the adult population (aged 25-64) that claims to know at least one foreign language. The indicator is broken down by the (self-reported) knowledge level that corresponds to the best known foreign language.
Data presented here originate from Eurostat’s Adult Education Survey (AES) and are subject to its methodology.

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Posted on 14/10/2010  | Last update on 12/11/2010 Back to list

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