source: istockphotoDino4The Eurobarometer is a periodic public opinion survey in the countries of the EU, ordered by the European Commission, aimed at monitoring the development of public opinion among the European population.

From the 2012 Eurobarometer survey “Europeans and their languages” it becomes clear that the number of bilingual and multilingual European citizens has decreased in comparison to the year 2006: Just above half of the European citizens (54%) (-2% since 2006) is able to have a conversation in at least one other language, one quarter (-3% since 2006) speaks at least two additional languages and one out of ten citizens can express him- or herself in at least three languages.

In view of the objective of the EU that each citizen should, next to his mother tongue, be able to speak two additional languages, this implies that it is necessary to support multilingualism and to promote linguistic diversity more strongly. The campaign language diversity is promoting this objective and works on the integration of the regional and minority languages within this objective. There are, however, few statements in the Eurobarometer 2012 about this specific aspect.

Overall, the survey showed that Europeans have a very positive perspective on multilingualism: almost all Europeans (98%) think that knowledge of foreign languages is useful for the future of their children. Furthermore, the majority of the European citizens (81%) is of the opinion that all the languages spoken in the EU should be treated equally.

Almost three quarters of the people who were interviewed are in favour of the objective set by the EU that everyone should learn at least two foreign languages. According to 77%, the promotion of language skills should be politically prioritised.

The most frequent mother tongue spoken in the EU – in accordance with the population numbers of the EU – is German (16%), followed by Italian and English (each 13%), French (12%), and then Spanish and Polish (each 8%). The question: “What is your mother tongue?” also yielded the answers: Basque, Catalan, Croatian, Danish, Galician, Hungarian, Irish/Gaelic, Luxemburgish, Maltese, Scots Gaelic, Slovak, Slovene, Urdu and Welsh.

source: Austria, Finland and Ireland there is the largest increase in the number of interviewed people who say that they speak at least one language well-enough to be able to have a conversation. In Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary, in contrast, the percentages among the people who were interviewed have significantly decreased.

We recognise significant differences between countries. In regard to the long-term EU objective that each citizen should acquire practical knowledge of at least two foreign languages, we have to acknowledge that there are only eight member states where this applies for a majority of the population, i.e. in Luxemburg (84%), the Netherlands (77%), Slovenia (67%), Malta (59%), Denmark (58%), Latvia (54%), Lithuania (52%) and Estonia (52%).

Germany for example is not among the countries where a majority of the population is able to speak his mother tongue and two additional foreign languages.

Next week: Eurobarometer Part 2: Advantages of language learning
Do you want to know more? Eurobarometer 2012 “Europeans and their languages”