July 13, 2015

Learning a foreign language a ‘must’ in Europe, not so in America

Foreign Language Study Requirements in EuropeA popular stereotype of Americans traveling abroad is the tourist who is at a loss when it comes to coping with any language other than English. Fair or not, the fact is that while the U.S. does not have a national requirement for students to learn a foreign language in school, the typical European pupil must study multiple languages in the classroom before becoming a teen.

Studying a second foreign language for at least one year is compulsory in more than 20 European countries. In most European countries, students begin studying their first foreign language as a compulsory school subject between the ages of 6 and 9, according to a 2012 report from Eurostat, the statistics arm of the European Commission. This varies by country and sometimes within a country, with the German-speaking Community of Belgium – one of the three federal communities of Belgium– starting its 3-year-olds on a foreign language, but parts of the United Kingdom (excluding Scotland) waiting until age 11.

Ireland and Scotland are two exceptions that do not have compulsory language requirements, but Irish students learn both English and Gaelic (neither is considered a foreign language); Scottish schools are still obligated to offer at least one foreign-language option to all students ages 10-18. English is the most-studied foreign language across almost all European countries and at all education levels. Fully 73% of primary students in Europe and more than nine-in-ten secondary students were learning English at school in 2009-10, the most recent years with available data.

Most Students in Europe Must Study Their First Foreign Language by Age 9
Although some countries mandate that students learn English as their foreign language, the portion of pupils studying it remains high across the board, even in countries without this rule. French and German were the next-most popular languages in most countries, with Spanish and Russian also widely taught as foreign languages in certain regions of the continent. The percentage of students learning some other language was below 5% in most countries.

Meanwhile, the U.S. does not have a nationwide foreign-language mandate at any level of education. Many states allow individual school districts to set language requirements for high school graduation, and primary schools have very low rates of even offering foreign-language course work. Some foreign-language learning standards can be met by taking non-language classes. For example, California requires one course in either the arts or a foreign language (including American Sign Language) for all high school students. Oklahomans can opt to take two years of the same foreign language or “of computer technology approved for college admission requirements.” Conversely, New Jersey students must earn “at least five credits in world languages” or demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English before they can graduate high school.

Perhaps because of these varying standards, few Americans who claim to speak a non-English language say that they acquired those skills in school. Only 25% of American adults self-report speaking a language other than English, according to the 2006 General Social Survey. Of those who know a second language, 43% said they can speak that language “very well.” Within this subset of multilinguals who are well-versed in a non-English language, 89% acquired these skills in the childhood home, compared with 7% citing school as their main setting for language acquisition.

Topics: Education, Europe, Language

  1. is a research analyst focusing on global attitudes at Pew Research Center.


  1. ALAN MACFARLANE1 year ago

    These statistics are Interesting ! In Ireland, although stated it is not required to study a foreign language here & its not a government requirement, It is in reality a requirement (each school sets its requirement).

    Primary School:
    A government compulsory requirement in Ireland is for Irish citizens to learn The Irish Language within the school system (at the age 4 – 5). Some primary schools also offer a foreign language.

    High School; Most people also learn a foreign language from age 11 +. Thid again is chosen by the school. Most popularly in French, German, Italian or Spanish. Other schools offer Russian, Chinese and Japanese (becoming more popular, but are rarer).

    Irish people according to statistics arent the best at foreign languages (about 60% of the population can speak a foreign language).

    My opinion is that, because most people from other Eu countries can speak some English, English becomes the common language, meaning that people become lazy upkeeping or practising foreign languages.

    Secondly,Although there is much love for the Irish language and its revival, its course in standard schools is horrible (needs to be thought in a completely different way, another sotry ! ). A second foreign language should be thought far younger then 11 years of age, along with the Irish language.

    Just some thoughts and opinions :))

  2. Anonymous1 year ago

    Does other nations make it mandatory for children to learn another language like Europe???

  3. Smith Smith2 years ago

    As an native English speaker, you can learn multiple languages….but how many people are actually going to communicate with you in those languages and not treat you like it’s just some party trick, and any “real communication” will be done in English? No matter where a native English speaker travels to, absolutely everyone they encounter is going to want to speak to them in English, or not speak to them at all.

    Nobody likes non-native speakers speaking their language. Native English speakers are the only ones who don’t seem to mind, but this is due to history and immigration.

    If you look European and you master an Asian language, guess what, everyone is going to point at you and laugh and respond in bad English at you.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Not sure where you got this impression…..I come from an all white family but speak fluent Spanish. I live in Texas as well and all the native Spanish speakers are shocked as well as ecstatic when they hear me speak Spanish. To them it’s a compliment when a non-native speaker can communicate with them in their native language. For one, it’s more comfortable speaking a language you grew up knowing. So for them, constantly seeing “gueros” taking Spanish classes at my school in order to graduate, and all the while not putting any effort into the class, it’s a bit insulting. Yes I feel more comfortable speaking in English, but seeing the smiles people have when I’m one of the few non-latinos in our community that can speak Spanish lets me know how much they appreciate it. The only time we make fun of people that can’t speak Spanish is because they’re not trying and are generally disrespectful towards the people who want to help them.

    2. Matt Riggs1 year ago

      Coming from somebody that is fluent in Spanish as a second language and has no Latino heritage, you sound really ignorant by saying “Nobody likes non-native speakers speaking their language.”

      1. Michael Koslowski1 year ago

        My parents immigrated to Germany from Poland about 25 years ago and I grew up learning German alongside with my parents. In kindergarten I was being taught German and at home Polish. Although I understand everything in Polish on a quite high level I have a very bad accent and will be recognized as a non-native Speaker as soon as I open my mouth. There are not many “foreigners”,who speak Polish, thus I become instantly sympathetic for learning their language. And don’t let me start to talk about the girls. 😉

        Furthermore, in Germany you actually have to learn at least 2 foreign languages. (in North Rhine-Westphalia,Germany)

        After the primary school you have to learn for a year French or Latin. After that year you can continue to learn it 2-3 years. (I am not sure about the certain figure)

        If you continue going to school you have to continue learning French or have to start another Language, which can be Spanish,Russian or Dutch.

        In my opinion the USA should teach every pupil at least one foreign language either. Languages do not only open yourself to new cultures, they open minds, too and that is important for a country, which’s population mainly descended from Refugees and Immigrants.

        Besides that whole school thing, you can learn a new language at any age and get to know what Refugees without proper education have to go through when they learn English as adults. It is rarely easy but you always benefit.

        I am sorry for any grammar or syntax mistake.

    3. Anonymous1 year ago

      I don’t know where you got these ideas from. I have to say that they are incorrect.
      I understand that you may not experienced it yourself that people are very friendly to the foreigners who speak or try to speak their language.

  4. Ebony Saintz2 years ago

    I am not sure why it is such a shock that America doesn’t have the same kind of language requirements as Europe. We are the United States, one country, as opposed to a bunch of individual countries side by side (think Germany and Austria). Americans who allow themselves to be made to feel like idiots, for not being bi- or multi- lingual are drinking too much of the Kool-Aid. If your life required you to speak another language (say for work), you would have learned the other language. Americans tend not to travel abroad as much as Europeans. Why do you need another language, if you don’t leave the States? So, you can still order a quarter pounder with cheese at McDonald’s the way you like it, or just to show off.

    1. Proud American2 years ago

      Americans do travel just s much as Europeans. Also opening your mind to learn another language could lead to much more than just learning a foreign language. I’m a proud American and I love my country even with it’s flaws and reading your statement your one of them! Ignorance is not bliss!

    2. Lori2 years ago

      You sound ignorant, of course Americans travel as much as Europeans. It’s more than learning a second language. The world is becoming more globalized, and there are so many people and different languages. Understanding and speaking a second language is always positive. It’s more than just being able to order off the menu, its about being able to rely less on others and be more independent in that country. It’s about accepting and learning a part of their culture and customs as well. So yes learning a second language always comes with positive outcomes. I’m Hmong American, and I wish that when I was in school they would have had more opportunities to teach us another language, others stared at me like I was an alien for speaking another language. That’s what happens when the majority of America’s small towns and cities have no foreign language programs.

  5. Cesary2 years ago

    Not correct, most Dutch students have to learn English, German AND French.

  6. Clifford2 years ago

    I grew up in the U.S and my mother’s side of the family spoke a second language and I always kick myself for not being more heavily invested in learning to speak it. When I was younger, U.S schools did not seem to place much focus on learning a second language, it would be taught in schools but if you never really grasped speaking another language, the school really did not care and just sent you on your way with a grade. I have to admit that when I was younger I never put much thought on learning a new language, but as i got older I found learning another language to be a fun but difficult task. I really do hope that learning a second language becomes a bigger focus in U.S schools.

  7. Bent Hemmingsen2 years ago

    Pretty sure that you start learning English in Denmark from 1st grade now, and I don’t think I know a single person who hasn’t taken a 2nd language in grade school (German, Spanish, French…)

  8. Enzo Zappone2 years ago

    I am Italian and have an American friend who lives and works here for some years. She teaches English in an American base but she doesnt speak any italian just because “she doesnt have time “. This is sad and not respectful for the country she lives in. Or in Firenze an American couple asked me information about places just speaking in English in american fast accent! ! So not easy for me. …

  9. Seipherd2 years ago

    Seems misguided to worry about mandating foreign language requirements in the US when so many can barely read, write, do arithmetic or understand basic science principles in English.

    Additionally, requiring foreign language may impact many folks who are good at math, engineering, science or have other skills from being able to qualify for advancing their special skills due to poor multilingual skills. Conversely, how many folks learning a foreign language are fully competent at math or science? Sure there are some who have both skill sets and aptitudes, but many are not members of that intersection of skill sets, yet are fully functional productive members of society.

    Folks who want to learn foreign languages should be able to pursue that skill development, just as those who have other skills and interests should be able to pursue those. Best wishes to those few who can do it all.

    1. ee2 years ago

      Can you understand being open to the world? Learning languages make people more intelligent and moreover why shouldn’t english speaking people learn another language and spend time on other stuffs? Only as Engish is more spoken? Is that fair?

    2. Anonymous1 year ago

      The problem with statement, is that it’s ignoring the fact that the VAST majority of scientists in world do not speak English natively and in what language are these articles written in? English. So to say that poor language skill prohibits people, then you are ignoring the majority of scientists.

  10. Federico2 years ago

    I am from Spain and I assume the research is accurate but I want to share my own personal experience. I went to a school in Barcelona that was neither private nor public (is a normal thing in Spain). At the age of 5 I started learning English and at the age of 14 I started with French. If you look at the overall picture, my french is really bad but I am fluent with English. So yes, I guess Spain only “really” teaches one language.

  11. Elaine2 years ago

    If you have a look at Education Scotland’s section on 1+2 languages you will see that your information is wrong in this instance too. Poor research.

  12. Sarah2 years ago

    I read this same article in Spanish a few weeks ago, leaving a comment attempting to clarify that in Ireland, there IS a requirement for students to learn a foreign language from the ages of 12-18. This does not refer to Gaelic which we learn from the age of 5. You would expect a research center to conduct better research or at least amend incorrect information.

    1. Jacob Poushter2 years ago

      Hi Sarah,

      We double-checked our source of information for Ireland and we’re confident this post accurately represents the national language requirements. Thanks for writing.

  13. Alex2 years ago

    I would like to state out that there is mistake in the statistic: In Germany you also need to study <> foreign languages. Lessons for the first begin in elementary school (age: 6-8, depending on the federal state) and the secound one starts in junior high school (age: 10-12, again depending on the federal state). Near the French border, pupils learn as primary foreign language French, in all other areas English. As secound language you can typically choose from French, Latin or Russian. Recently, there has been some redefiniton of educational goals, so that especially Latin will be replaced successively by Spanish (or Italian) due to the fact that Latin is pretty dead and French is loosing its global importance. Russian is also loosing ground due to the political change 1989.

    1. Jacob Poushter2 years ago

      Hi Alex,

      We double-checked our source of information for Germany and we’re confident this post accurately represents the national language requirements. Thanks for writing.

      1. Jan Fredriksson2 years ago

        Alex has a point when he stresses regional differences within Germany.

        I admit I did not thoroughly check the information you provided, but there is a huge methodological problem if you suppose “national requirements” in a federal republic like Germany: There are 16 German states, each of them has its own educational system and the national government has virtually no authority on educational and cultural matters. So “German national educational requirements” sounds like a contradiction in terms to me.

        And what about other non-centralist countries like Switzerland, Austria, Italy (with its officially recognized German-speaking minority in Tirol) or the US?

  14. Abdenacer Saidi2 years ago

    What does the number 1 and number 2 ?

  15. Samantha norton2 years ago

    The California comment is wrong. I am from California and I was required to take three years of a language. And I actually speak two languages fluently aside from english and am learning another

    1. Tina Dalton2 years ago

      Not true. I’m a foreign language teacher (French language) in California. The law states that you must have minimum either 1 year of foreign language or 1 year of art to graduate high school. University of California A-G admission requirements are 2 years (3 recommended). A school district may opt to require more than what the law states, but most districts adhere to the minimum requirements.

      1. Danielle2 years ago

        I am a current college student, and I think that yes in what you say is correct. Most schools (High Schools) require at least 1-2 credits of foreign language done. BUT, many students by the time they get to high school, don’t want to go throught the hassle of learning a new language especially if it will hurt their GPA and it will take up more time. I believe that what Ms.Devlin is trying to get through is that for instance in the U.S, language is not required nor enforced until you are about to graduate High school and about to enter the real life. Whether that be college or actual full time job after that. But why is it not until the end of it that we are forced to take up a language? Why not have us start out early? There are so many studies that have shown that it improves the growing brain, and helps with our cognitive skills and sharpens our creativity. Along with that, it allows us to learn a little more about the culture of where it comes from, and in order to understand we need to be able to communicate and we can’t just force everyone to just speak English… it is not fair. But, say a french student who knew little english and an american who knew little french were to ask each other directions or try to get any kind of information, both would be able to get the information needed because both were able to switch back and forth with what they know and were able to fully communicate.
        So learning at least one other language is important, and as one who recently went through many students who hated the hassle I can tell that maybe starting the education earlier would’ve been more beneficial…. But that is just an opinion of a first hand college student who observes everything and observes the behaviors, thoughts, actions and reactions of her peers at school to understand the education system and try to add ideas for the administration so education enhances and brightens the future for the next younger generation.

  16. Elina Maarit Rinne-Kangasluoma2 years ago

    I think the article does not make a clear enough distinction between languages that are actually foreign and those that are the other official languages of a country. For example, in case of Finland, you are required to start studying a foreign language (usually English) at the age of 9, but the second compulsory “foreign” language is either Swedish or Finnish, because Finland is a bilingual country (official languages Finnish and Swedish).

  17. Dietrich2 years ago

    Belgium is also wrong. In the Flemish part of Belgium we get French in kindergarden now. And the levels build up how older you get. Young kids these days have a basic understanding of the French language. Also in Highschool we learn 3 languages: German, French and English.

  18. H. E.2 years ago

    De jure, yes-de facto, no for the use. At least when I was growing up. Most high schools had a language requirement. Virtually everyone took 2 years of French in high school. If they were stupid or doing the ‘Business Course’ (i.e. secretarial prep) they took 2 years of Spanish instead. If they were abnormally intelligent into heavy science they took German, which was considered almost impossibly difficult–like calculus. Usually after the virtually mandatory 2 years of French. If they really liked languages they took 4 years of French.

    It isn’t that Americans don’t study languages. We start too late–back in my day, in high school, at 13 or 14. And maybe even more importantly, never seriously expect to really learn a language. The 2-years-of-French regime was like algebra: something you did in high school, which you never really learnt, or expected to learn, and forgot as soon as you left the class.

  19. Anna2 years ago

    Dear fellow American commenters, you are forgetting about a rather large chunk of North America. Namely Quebec, where French is the majority language.

    The U.S.’s historic linguistic policies that foster monolingualism are rooted in racism and provincialism, and for that reason alone, we should be exposing our youth to non-English languages at much younger ages than are typical for this country.

  20. Olav M.2 years ago

    Information for Norway is UTTERLY wrong (too)!
    I think the list of errors is mounting …watch out, author!
    Withdraw? Corrections are OVERDUE.

    Already since the late 1960’s, learning english has been part of common education in Norway. From 1968 on, from the 5.th grade (age 12). Since then, earlier and earlier: Today its from age 7 !! (not 16 …)
    More and more emphasis has been put on the importance of learning foreign languages in Norway. Statistics show norwegians to be amongst the top tier of Europe, in this field… (yes, the article’s: ’16’ – it’s really ridiculous …)

    Personally, finishing ‘college’ (Gymnas in norwegian) back in 1975, specializing in maths and physics, nevertheless one could easily keep a conversation going in english, german and french, at a ‘reasonable’ level! Learning our SECOND foreign language were introduced at an age of 14 (german). French was introduced at college, for ALL classes, (3 full years with french).
    Nowadays, english is taught from 2.nd grade (7 years old), some ‘teasers’ (like songs) from 1. grade (age 6).

    So HOW ON EARTH can someone come up with the ridiculous: “age 16” for Norway?
    Has NEVER been, in fact!

    The sheer number of severe errors in this article – I’m deadly serious here:
    This arcticle is absolutely USELESS!
    It’s a piece of crap – plain desinformation, at a provoking level!

    Withdraw this and rewrite!
    Then publish with some useful information, paying A LOT more attention to Q & A on your sources of information! These so-called ‘facts’ about norwegian language education, reminds more of an INSULT than information …
    I sincerely hope, you’re not ‘planting’ this, do you?
    Yes, this is a blatant example of completely useless, so-called ‘journalism’!

  21. Jan2 years ago

    I am a German teacher (Native Speaker) working in Poland and having worked in Italy.

    Studying a second foreign language for at least one year is compulsory in most German schools. Like the majority of German grammar school pupils I had 3 foreign languages.

    Second language in Poland unfortunately is only 1 or 2 hours a week, less than Religion.

    First language in Italy is at a really low level, second even worse. I’ve met Italian teachers of German who weren’t capable to understand the easiest sentences in German.

    Unfortunately, the data is totally wrong or at least meaningless.

  22. Balkanian2 years ago

    Data about Balkans seems wrong, unless things have changed dramatically with latest education reform. I grew up in the Balkans (in the 90’s) and was required to learn a foreign language starting at 5th grade, sometimes two. Would be good to include the facts that attest to the claim that there isn’t a second language requirement in the Balkans (countries in white on the map).

    1. Youssef2 years ago

      I think you read the map wrong. Only EU countries are included. The white balkan countries are simply not included in this study. Their color is different from Scotland and Ireland, which are included in the study, and are grey, not white.
      So no claims at all are made about the white balkan countries actually.

  23. Amanda Mønster Jørgensen2 years ago

    The information for Denmark is wrong. The new school reform means that children start learning English at age 7 and German or French at age 11. So it is two foreign languages not one. There are even some places that are teaching English to children from the age of 3.

    1. Youssef2 years ago

      I wonder what this case study actually shows. I think it may be the number of foreign languages at primary school. Then the figures are correct I think. Where I come from English is obligatory from age of 10, but most schools offer it from an earlier age.
      After primary school (which is after the age of 12) either French or German is also required at the very least. But at most levels and schools both are required.
      Although I agree that the data are a little ambiguous on this point.

  24. Beverly2 years ago

    I dont’ have personal experience of all of the countries in Europe. Therefore, I won’t presume to comment on those with which I’m not familiar. And I’m certainly not trying to argue that American education and Americans should be applauded for their largely monolingual approach. However, as a language educator with decades of experience, I would like to mention that there is a big difference between requiring that a second or third language be studied in school and ensuring that the students are taught well and thus develop strong proficiency. There’s also a big difference between being a native speaker of English, a lingua franca, and being a native speaker of a language spoken in one (often rather small) country or region. There is certainly greater motivation, and need, in the latter case to master a language that is crucial to success in the business world, for example. Just saying.

  25. Miloš2 years ago

    I’d like to point out that in Serbia you have to study English from the moment you enter school until you finish it. And at some point you have to choose another language (besides English) to learn. Usually you will choose between Russian, German, Italian or French.

    Another thing I’d like to point out, that you shouldn’t say ‘Europe’ when you actually mean ‘European Union’.

  26. Ricardo2 years ago

    Please note that many Dutch students are taught at least two foreign languages in secondary school. Although this depends on the level of education they follow, it’s incorrect to say Dutch students only learn one foreign language.

    1. Kro2 years ago

      Are they only required to learn one, or two?

  27. Seán O2 years ago

    In Ireland everyone studies Irish and English and usually do French or German as well. Your data is in error.

  28. Jim2 years ago

    If a person who speaks three languages is trilingual, and person who speaks two languages is bilingual, what’s a person who speaks one language?
    Answer: An American.

    1. Peter Brito2 years ago

      Lol!.. That’s a good one!… 😀

    2. Mr.M2 years ago

      Monolingual 🙂 Greetings from Poland:)

  29. Mac Hayes2 years ago

    The need for knowing second languages in Europe is obvious: if you travel much more than 100 miles (161 km) in any direction you will find a different language, or two or three. In North America you can travel thousands of miles without needing to know other than English or Spanish.

    1. Pixelsnader2 years ago

      So what you’re saying is Spanish should be compulsory in US primary schools?

      1. Nadia Bee2 years ago

        This article is misleading. Just because there isn’t a national requirement(the USA has little to no educational standards on most subjects unfortunately) , doesn’t mean most individual states don’t require a foreign language on the state level. I am from Pennsylvania and in order to graduate you had to learn a foreign language for two years in secondary school. And a foreign language was mandatory in middle school. I would love to see a post that looked at the foreign language requirement for all 50 states. I do agree that there tends to not be a foreign language requirement for elementary students. But foreign languages are pretty much mandatory in high school in order to graduate.

        1. John Levan2 years ago

          Also in Pennsylvania, I had French from the fourth through eighth grades and German from ninth through twelfth. Spanish and French were also offered.

        2. Kro2 years ago

          In Virginia, you have the option of pursuing either a Standard Diploma (which does not require any foreign languages) or an Advanced Diploma (which requires either 3 years of 1 language or 2 years each of 2 languages)

        3. S Davis.2 years ago

          You are right. I live in Georgia and it is the same. My daughter had a year of Spanish in middle school. She is in high school now, and will take French for two years.

  30. mach372 years ago

    A bit of attention to geography and history should explain why North Americans care so little about learning a second language: they don’t need to know a second language. Thanks to the British Empire large swaths of the post-18th Century world were familiar with English. Thanks to the Atlantic Ocean and little international air travel until 75 years ago, Americans rarely had need of knowing another language, by which time English had become the de facto world-wide “lingua franca.” I’ll leave it to another commenter to explain why Spanish is also so widely spoken.

    1. Kaye2 years ago

      I’ll do it – for North America, the Mexican-American War in the mid-19th century resulted in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), in which Mexico ceded half of its territory to the US for ~$15 million. These now make up most of the Southwest, from Texas to California. As part of the treaty, Mexicans in the annexed territory were given the option to relocate to be within Mexico’s new borders or to become US citizens – and most chose the latter.

  31. Jocelyn2 years ago

    Some incorrect facts here.
    In England it is compulsory to start a first foreign language age 7 not 11. This became a statutory requirement in September 2014. However it is only currently compulsory to take one foreign language up to age 14. But the government is introducing a new expectation that all pupils will take a core set of subjects (including a language) at GCSE which is taken Age 16.

    In Scotland there is a new policy expecting all pupils to take 2 foreign languages – mother tongue plus two in line with EU policies on multilingualism.

    Another commentator has already corrected the views about Wales.

    It seems, from reading the comments below that a large number of ‘facts’ in this article are incorrect, thus totally undermining the purpose of the article!

  32. Carloz Newsvine2 years ago

    Are there similar studies about other regions of the world? I would be interesting to know what the policies are in countries in Asia, Africa, Middle East, Oceania, South and Central America.

    1. Kate2 years ago

      Foreign language isn’t really offered in most schools in Asia. There is the fact that most schools have incorporated English as a required subject, however the English taught in most schools in East Asia for one, frequently doesn’t lead to fluency in the language.

      In Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and the Philippines, English is more widely taught and used as a mode of communication along with the native tongue, however it is rare that foreign language courses are offered in primary or secondary school. Taking my school which is in the Philippines as an example, the only reason we are required to study Chinese is because it was specifically founded to be a school for those of Chinese descent who want to keep in touch with their roots. Most other schools are either of this kind or don’t offer any sort of foreign language.

  33. morri2 years ago

    In Germany they start English in y3 these days. If you want University entry level schol qualifications you also need a second foreign language. The classic case is English in y 3 and french/latin in y 5 or 7. Some can choose other lingo like spnish or danish or ancient greek etc.

  34. Hannah2 years ago

    Also your comment about Belgium is very missleading. Yes the german speaking part may start at 3 but its a very small section of the country and for the rest it is not complusry for children to start at 3 years old. The Flemish region which is the most populated part of belgium they dont start until age 10 with French and then other languages come in at high school. Please do better research and do not twist small facts for the outcome you want.

    1. Paul2 years ago

      It’s really not misleading at all if you read what was typed. “This varies by country and sometimes within a country, with the German-speaking Community of Belgium – one of the three federal communities of Belgium– starting its 3-year-olds on a foreign language…”

      The article pretty clearly says it sometimes varies within a country. Then it goes on to give a solid example of it varying in a country. The German speaking part of Belgium which is one of three federal communities, or in other words not the entire country, start their kids on English at 3. Not misleading at all. Please read better before you accuse someone of not doing their job correctly.

  35. Nurira2 years ago

    In Spain English is compulsory form age 3 and French from age 11. If you live in Galicia, Catalunya or Euskadi you also learn Galicia, Catalan or Vasque respectively from age 3. That study is obsolete at least 15 years.

  36. Anders Jensen2 years ago

    interesting study! However in Denmark children are now studying English in 1. Grade (7 years old).

  37. felix2 years ago

    Could you edit Switzerland?

    Your statement is just plain wrong. Swiss scholars need to learn one of the 3 other languages in Switzerland as their own. (Yes 4 Languages: German, French, Italian, Romantsh). English is mandatory as well.

    For swiss german speaker (and native rumansh-speakers), high german is a foreign language as well. So most swiss speak 3-4 languages.

  38. Sebastian2 years ago

    I’m a bit surprised that Germany is supposed to not have a requirement for a second foreign language. When I went to school (80’s/early 90’s) I had to learn two foreign languages.
    Now, maybe the rules changed since then or maybe PEW doesn’t count that for some reason. (Education is a topic governed by the individual states in Germany, so maybe only some of them require two languages.)

    @Kevin Smith: Considering that in Switzerland French, German and Italian are main official languages, it’s now surprise that many Swiss speak more than one of them.

    I’m a bit surprised that when talking about America the article doesn’t mention the significant minorities that are likely to speak a second language beside English: Native Americans, Hispanics, and immigrants from Asia.

  39. Alun Palmer2 years ago

    When I was in school, French was compulsory in England, but I’m not sure if it still is? I think that requirement may have been abolished? I did 5 years of French and 3 of German, because that was the most that was available. Lots of kids wanted to learn Spanish, but it wasn’t offered.

    In the part of Spain where my parents now live, the kids have to study both Catalan and French in addition to Spanish, but Catalan is the first language there, so their situation is similar to the Welsh person who posted.

    At least when I visit I have one language in common with the locals – French. On average, they are more fluent in French, but my accent is much better than theirs. Even that can be blamed on them having more words in common, which they don’t bother to pronounce the French way.

  40. Tom Brown2 years ago

    There are over 50 million Spanish speakers in the United States. So it’s not like the US is only English speaking.

  41. John R Sanchez2 years ago

    I never did like this argument. You cannot hold the US accountable for Europeans needing to speak multiple languages. Just look at the size of Europe, and how many languages are spoken. Now, look at the size of the US and think about how many languages are spoken. Americans don’t need to learn other people’s languages, because the vast majority of people they will realistically come into contact with are already fluent in English. Europe comes into contact with purple speaking a variety of languages all the time.

    1. Mark2 years ago

      I think a very simplistic argument. I think the problem is a failure of education in America. I recommend reading the article: “Why American Education Fails”

    2. Michael Andrade2 years ago

      I speak Spanish every single day in my neighborhood in San Francisco when I go to the store, eat in a restaurant, chat in a bar, etc. With a last name like Sanchez I’m saddened that you are so distant from your raza and your roots.

    3. Sag Ichnicht2 years ago

      You do have a point. But there would be a case for Spanish as foreign language, at least in the southern states. After all most of Latin America is speaking Spanish and their culture had already a lasting influence on US culture as well. But then, maybe this is a politically loaded question as languages of larger immigrant groups are often not regarded very well or even openly opposed.

      Naturally the need for Europeans to learn foreign languages is much greater than for US Americans. English is a prerequisite in many European countries nowadays, even within, even where it is not the native tongue. You don’t need it for all jobs, but you are certainly handicapped in many jobs if you don’t speak it, after all it is not only the lingua franca on a global scale but also within Europe itself as well. The 2nd foreign language is then another European language, because English is nice and all but if you really want to get to know a country you simply have to learn the language.

    4. mach372 years ago

      In Europe if you travel much more than 200 km in any direction you will be in another country with a different language. Europeans have had to be multilingual almost forever if they every left their home-town. In North America, except for Mexico and points south, you can travel for thousands of miles and never encounter a language other than English.

    5. lunamaga2 years ago

      Sadly, Americans do not come generally into contact with others who speak a language other than English because immigrants are pressured into leaving their native language behind. Bilingual education in the US is not truly bilingual. School children are taught in their native language as long as they are not ready to perform in English. After they master the English language, most are not required to study another language long enough so that they can become fluent in it. The US could be a linguistically rich country, but it isn’t. “Americans” are monolingual for the most part and generally speaking do not see the need to know other languages.

  42. zingyyellow2 years ago

    In Wales, Welsh is compulsory together with English and another language for 3 years from 11 years old. Usually french.

  43. Kevin Smith2 years ago

    The oddity about this report is that it shows no requirements for students in Switzerland, yet I taught a college student from there who was proficient in five languages, including French, German, Italian and a couple of Swiss dialects. He was a linguistic genius.

    1. Alun Palmer2 years ago

      Switzerland has 3 official languages, French, German and Italian. The official name of the country is in a 4th language, Romansch, and is actually Confederatio Helvetia. Actually, Romansch is the German word for Roman, and is the vulgar latin dialect spoken by the descendants of Hannibal’s Roman legions, who tried to cross the Alps by elephant. On top of that, in the German speaking cantons they speak Schweizertutsch (Swiss German dialect) but they can all speak standard German as well. I think most people speak at least one language used in cantons other than their own, and English as well.

      1. Raghav2 years ago

        Confœderatio Helvetica is Latin, not Romansch. It would be “Confederaziun helvetica” in Romansch, but the country is usually referred to as “Confederaziun svizra” or just “Svizra.”

    2. S H2 years ago

      Well, Switzerland has 4 official languages – Italian, German, French, and Romansch. So it’s nothing particularly extraordinary to speak any combination of those languages, if you’re Swiss. I live in Austria, but my doctor worked in Switzerland for quite some time, and so he speaks German, Luxembourgish and French. He may well speak Italian… I never bothered to ask about that.

  44. Mirjam S.2 years ago

    In the Netherlands, all children learn English in primary school. The age varies, schools may decide for themselves, some start at six, some later. Minimal requirement is to start at ten to twelve years old. In secondary school, all children learn English and at least one other foreign language for two years, mostly French or German. Later in school, Spanish and, increasingly Chinese, are also possible. All children have English as a compulsory foreign language until they graduate school, at all school levels. In addition they can learn either one or two additional foreign language for their final exams.