Europeans and Languages, a new Eurobarometer survey conducted in 30 countries shows what a multilingual continent Europe is. The results, however, continue to show up Britons' lack of enthusiasm for the art of international conversation.
50% of the EU citizens surveyed say they can hold a conversation in a language which is not their mother tongue and there is increasing confidence in their ability to do so. Within the original fifteen member states, the ability to speak another language has increased by 3% and a greater proportion of them now see their knowledge as 'good' or 'very good'.
In countries like Holland and Malta, where large proportions of the population are able to communicate in English there are also very high proportions able to speak other languages too: 66% of Dutch people say they can hold a conversation in German and 60% of Maltese speak Italian too.
As usual, socioeconomic reasons are thought to be central to the results; children who left school at 15 were far less likely to have a foreign language than those who continued onto further education.
There is still a chance for these school leavers to study, though, as private language schools offer the opportunity to learn Spanish, learn French or any number of other European languages in a friendly and supportive atmosphere. Those wishing to learn Spanish in Spain, for example, can choose from thousands of schools, from Bilbao to Barcelona. When choosing a location to learn Spanish Spain is usually at the top of the list, alongside Central/South American countries like Mexico and Argentina
The UK is no longer rock bottom in the chart: it has risen to second-to-last place in front of Hungary. However, the proportion of our population saying we can speak another language has actually declined: from 34% in 2001 to 30% in 2005. The new member states have altered the results greatly. One source says 'Many young men in countries like Poland and Hungary are taking business Spanish courses, basically learning to speak Spanish for business purposes. The young in the new Eastern European member states see the older Western European nations as having great potential for moneymaking. They are often willing to work longer hours for lower wages and feel that a foreign language could open many doors for them.'
English is the most commonly spoken second language, although it is probably less widely spoken than is popularly assumed: one third of EU citizens speak it as a foreign language, 12% speak German, 11% French, 5% Spanish and 5% Russian.
Spanish courses for juniors, alongside English courses for juniors, are an increasingly popular option in the new member states. They give hardworking children the chance to gain a real head start in the international job market recently opened up to them in the wake of communism. Spanish courses in Spain are less popular with the majority of Eastern European students as the cost is seen as prohibitive. When choosing a Spanish school Seville has many to offer. Although many students would jump at the opportunity to visit a Seville language school, few parents can afford the extravagance. This is in stark contrast to Western Europe, where there is a liberal interchange of language students each summer between wealthier nations with well-established networks of agents who refer students to preferred schools.
The boom in language learning has lead to a boom in language teaching. The relatively underdeveloped Eastern European language school market offers rich pickings for CELTA or Trinity qualified EFL teachers. Many English people choose to 'do a TEFL' at some point in their lives - over 10,000 Britons a year at present. When choosing a location to undertake the CELTA Seville is often a popular choice, as are Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga. It is estimated that around 50% of most CELTA classes taught within the UK wish to teach English in Spain at some point in their EFL careers.
Intensive Spanish courses in Spain offer an excellent opportunity for working folk to learn a new language during a holiday from work. Again, this applies mainly to those from wealthier parts of Europe, as they generally get longer holidays and higher pay. If the intensive course is not intense enough for you, there are always superintensive Spanish courses where you can learn enough Spanish in a week to get by conversationally in a workplace environment.
Interestingly, the Eurobarometer report shows that Spanish people are almost as unwilling to learn another language as the English. 64% of Spanish respondents claimed only to speak their mother tongue, while that figure rose to 70% of English respondents.