The modern guide to European languages

February 18, 2016
The modern guide to European languages

For all those interested in linguistics, the EU’s report on Europeans and their Languages makes for interesting reading. Of course, as a freelance translator you might not have time to read the 145 page report in full, so we’ve grabbed the highlights to present to you. 

European languages

There are 23 official languages in Europe and over 60 indigenous regional and minority languages. There are also many non-indigenous languages, such as those spoken by migrant communities. 

The most widely spoken mother tongue within Europe is German, which is spoken by 16% of the population. Italian and English are next (spoken by 13% each), followed by French (12%), Spanish (8%) and Polish (also 8%). 

Multilingual Europeans

54% of Europeans can hold a conversation in a second language and 25% can speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue. 10% can converse in three additional languages. 

More than 90% of the population of Luxembourg, Latvia, the Netherlands, Malta, Slovenia and Lithuania speak     a second language. 

When it comes to second languages, the most widely spoken are English (38%), French (12%), German (11%), Spanish (7%) and Russian (5%). 

Monolingual Europeans 

When it comes to speaking only their mother tongue, Hungarians lead the field. 65% of Hungary’s population speaks only their native language. In Italy the figure is 62%, in the UK and Portugal it is 61% and in Ireland it is 60%. 

The need or desire to speak at least two additional languages seems to be declining. Between this survey and the previous one (conducted in 2005), nine countries showed a significant drop (i.e. of more than 5%) in the proportion of their residents who speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue. 

Despite this, 88% of Europeans believe that knowing additional languages is very useful. 

Final thoughts

Are you surprised by the findings of the report? Can studies of this nature help boost language learning? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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