EC study highlights weak foreign language skills among 14-15 year olds

21 Jun 2012

Findings from the first European Survey on Language Competences suggest that school students are struggling by comparison with their European counterparts. A linked Eurobarometer opinion poll shows support for increasing multilingualism in the UK, with two thirds of respondents believing that we should speak at least 3 languages. 

Nine per cent of 14-15 year-old school pupils in England can use their first foreign language independently, according to a new European Commission survey. The average for the 14 European countries covered is 42%. 39% of adults in the UK are able to have a conversation in a second language, compared to an EU average of 54%.

According to the separate Eurobarometer poll, seventy-two per cent of people in the UK and 84% EU-wide think everyone in the EU should be able to speak at least one other language as well as their mother tongue. 66% in the UK and 72% overall support the EU’s policy that people should master two other languages.

However, only 39% in the UK – a quarter of whom are native speakers of other languages who can converse in English – can in practice have a conversation in a foreign language, according to those polled. This compares to an EU average of 54%.

Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, said: “The results of the surveys show that the UK has some catching up to do in terms of foreign language learning and also that the UK public recognises that and wants to improve. So I am pleased that the UK authorities are giving this a high priority in their programme for school reform and in particular proposing an earlier start to language learning for primary pupils.”

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