school class razred škola.jpg
Photograph: Freeimages.com / igoghost

In 2014, more than 18 million primary school pupils (or 84% of all the pupils at this level) in the European Union were studying at least one foreign language, including nearly 1 million (around 5%) studying two foreign languages or more, according to figures provided by Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU,

 At primary level, English was by far the most popular language, studied by over 17 million pupils, according to Eurostat which publishes data on language learning at school on the occasion of the European Day of Languages, celebrated each year on 26 September.

The dominance of English is confirmed at the lower secondary level (pupils aged around 11-15 depending on the national educational system) with over 17 million pupils in the EU learning English as a foreign language (97% of all the pupils at this level) in 2014. French (5 million or 34% of the relevant population) came second, followed by German (3 million or 23%), Spanish (2 million or 13%), Russian (0.5 million or 3%) and Italian (0.2 million or 1%).

All or nearly all pupils at primary level in 2014 attended foreign language classes in Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta (all 100.0%), Croatia, Italy and Austria (all 99.9%), Spain (99.5%), as well as in France (99.0%) and Poland (97.7%).

At EU level, this share stood at 83.7%. In some Member States, young pupils were studying two or more foreign languages, particularly in Luxembourg (83.5%), followed at a distance by Estonia (32.6%) and Greece (28.7%).

In contrast, less than half of primary school pupils were studying a foreign language in 2014 in Portugal (36.2%), Belgium (37.0%) and Slovenia (48.4%).

English is the most common foreign language studied at primary level in every EU Member State, except Belgium and Luxembourg, both multilingual countries.

The second most common foreign language gives a more varied picture. German, which is the most learnt foreign language in Luxembourg, was the second main foreign language studied by primary school pupils in eight other Member States, with the highest shares of learners recorded in Hungary (20.1%) and Croatia (20.0%). French occupied this position on the EU level and in seven Member States, with the largest proportions being notably recorded in Luxembourg (83.5%), Greece (16.1%) and Romania (13.2%).

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