Britons at bottom of table for learning a foreign language

Almost two in three Britons are unable to speak a language other than English, in effect the worst record in Europe, a survey for the European Commission has found. Sixty-two per cent of respondents from the United Kingdom admitted they could not speak any language other than their mother tongue.

This compared with an average of 44 per cent across the EU and just 1 per cent in Luxembourg, the top-ranking country.

Only Ireland, with 66 per cent, outdid Britain, but the situation is complicated there because 11 per cent of the population count Irish as their mother tongue - and virtually all of those can also speak English.

About 700 people were interviewed in every EU country in November and December last year for the report, Europeans and their Languages.The survey monitored progress towards the EU target for all citizens to speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue. But the study found only 38 per cent of Britons spoke at least one foreign language, 18 per cent at least two, and 6 per cent at least three. This compared with an EU average of 56 per cent speaking at least one foreign language, 28 per cent at least two, and 11 per cent at least three.

The UK was one of just six EU countries - with Ireland, Italy, Hungary, Portugal and Spain - where the majority of citizens did not speak any language other than their mother tongue.

The survey also confirmed that English was the most widely-spoken foreign language throughout Europe, with 51 per cent of EU citizens able to hold a conversation in English, including 13 per cent for whom it was their mother tongue.

The report warned that there was a growing divide between multilingual and monolingual Europeans.

"A multilingual European is likely to be young, well-educated or still studying, born in a country other than the country of residence, who uses foreign languages for professional reasons and is motivated to learn," the report concluded. "Consequently, it seems that a large part of European society is not enjoying the advantages of multilingualism."

Tamzin Caffrey, of Cilt, the National Centre for Languages, said Britons could lose out because of laziness.

She said: "There is sometimes a very arrogant attitude that people from other countries will learn to speak English so we don't need to bother to learn to speak their languages. Britons are missing out on fabulous opportunities to interact with other cultures on holiday or on business because they don't speak the language."

The survey found Britons had a low opinion of their linguistic abilities, with 24 per cent stating "people in my country are good at speaking other languages", compared with an EU average of 44 per cent. Most British respondents (71 per cent) thought French was the best foreign language for UK children to study, followed by Spanish (39 per cent) and German (34 per cent).

Fifty-six per cent of Britons thought children should start learning a foreign language before five - in most countries the majority said six to 12 years.

The Government's National Languages Strategy for England aims to provide foreign language lessons for every eight to 11-year-old in primary schools by the end of the decade.

Nina Lemmens: 'In Germany, you simply have to learn'

"I am really not unusual for a German person," insists Nina Lemmens, who speaks fluent English and reasonable French and Italian, as well as her native German. "In German schools, you simply have to learn foreign languages."

Ms Lemmens, 42, who has lived in the UK for five years, continued: "When I was growing up, you had to take at least two foreign languages at school to pass the equivalent of A-levels. I started Latin as my first language aged 10, English as my second and French as my third. I learnt Italian after I left school. I also studied history of art at quite a traditional German university, where you had to pass proficiency tests in three languages.

"Learning a language really is a life-changing experience. It enables you to really experience different cultures and it opens the world up to you. I would not be able to do the job I do unless I was fluent in English.

"Learning a language enhances people's lives. It makes it much more interesting to learn a language if you can see in your everyday life that it will be useful to you."

News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer was final surviving member of seminal punk band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

**Science Teacher Urgently Required for September**

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Science Teacher Urgently ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice