Life Long Learning


This is where you find a selection of facts on languages and on multilingualism. In our diversity toolkit you can find a flyer with the most important elements of this information – that you can use at your own activities.



The Council of Europe – comprising 47 European states – speaks of about 220-230 indigenous languages and language groups, numbering about 100 million people. According to the Council of Europe the Basque language is seen as the most ancient spoken language in Europe today.

According to official numbers of the European Union (EU) there are – next to the 24 official languages of the EU – more than 60 regional or minority languages; their number of speakers is estimated at 40 million citizens.

Christoph Pan estimates the number of languages in Europe at about 90 languages, of which 37 are spoken as a national language and 53 languages must be regarded as “stateless” languages.

Among the large stateless languages are Catalan and Occitan with each around 6 million speakers. These languages have more speakers than for example Finnish (5 million), Danish (5 million), Norwegian (4 million) and Croatian (4,5 million), which are all state languages. But also Welsh, Basque, West Frisian, Breton and some languages in Russia like Bashkir and Chuvash lie above the critical number of speakers.

The critical threshold for the survival of a language is estimated at 300 000 speakers. This means that about 80% of the European minority languages are endangered. Therefore it is necessary to protect and to promote the European minorities.

Below this threshold are the large majority of regional and minority languages, like Ladin, Rhaeto Romansh, Upper and Lower Sorbian, North Frisian and Kashubian.

In every one of the 36 European countries with more than one million inhabitants, there are at least three minorities. In other words: the countries of Europe do not have homogeneous nations!

Every seventh European citizen is part of an ethnic, national minority.


The citizens of the EU have a very positive perspective on multilingualism. 88% of them are convinced that it is very useful to speak additional languages next to your mother tongue and almost all the EU citizens (98%) are of the opinion that learning languages is very important for the future of their children.

In contrast, only a quarter (25%) of the EU citizens today speak more than two additional languages.

The majority of the European citizens (81%) are of the opinion that all the languages spoken in the EU should be treated equally.

A study by the European Commission (2009) summarises the scientific correlation in regard to the positive effects of multilingualism:

Multilingualism and practical knowledge of languages are the condition for intercultural dialogue, participation in society and mobility and for the understanding of European values and cultural heritage.

Multilingualism is a potential for the acquisition of transversal key skills, for improving achievements in thinking, learning, problem solving and communicating and a source for creative and innovative thinking.

Creativity and innovation are key skills for employability, competitiveness and the development of a pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit.

Facts about multilingualism (english)


Eurobarometer 2012 “Europeans and their languages”
EUROMOSAIC I study, 1996, Fig.9
European Centre for Modern Languages, Council of Europe
European Commission
“Ik snack platt, du ok?”, In: ZEIT ONLINE
Pan, Christoph / Pfeil, Beate Sibylle, National Minorities in Europe – Handbook, Braumüller 2003
Prof. Dr. Els Oksaar, in: Předskok z dwěmaj rěčomaj, ed. by Domowina – Rěčny centrum WITAJ, Budyšin 2005
Prof. Dr. Jeroen Darquennes, University of Namur (Belgium)
Prof. Dr. Tatyana Smirnova, Professor and Chair for Ethnography at the Omsk F. M. Dostoevsky State University
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wölck, Research Centre for Multilingualism in Brussels and State University of New York
Study on the Contribution of Multilingualism to Creativity, European Commission 2009