Knowledge of English in Europe
The English language in Europe is mainly spoken in the United Kingdom and Ireland as a native and official language. In other European countries, English is spoken by people who have learned it as a second language and the most commonly spoken foreign language in 19 European Union countries. In total, there are over 370 million English speakers out of about 450 million EU residents. Generally, in EU the working knowledge of English as a foreign language is on the leading position (38%), followed by German and French (both 14%), Russian and Spanish (at 6% each), and Italian (3%).
At the same time, the level of knowledge of English in the EU is notably different. For instance, many countries have an extremely high level of English throughout the population, for example, in 2016 in the Netherlands (72 %), across Scandinavia, at least 67% of the population speak English and even as high as 71% in Denmark. One of the reasons can be the feasibility to study it from an early age as well as the availability of movies and books in English.
In comparison to 2016, there were slight changes in 2019, namely, among the top 10 countries with the highest rate of English skills, the Netherlands remains in the leading position. Among top countries, there are only 2 non-EU countries (Singapore and South Africa) with a high level of English knowledge. The lowest proficiency in English across the EU is Italy, Spain, and Latvia. Therefore, if you are going there for the holiday it is advisable to learn some basics of the official languages there. On the global scale in 2019 Kyrgyzstan and Libya got the last 2 positions in the ranking.
Other popular languages
Nevertheless, without proper knowledge of English, it is likewise possible to leave in the European countries, since there are other predominant languages, which are widely used at work and also in private life. Of course, the popularity of the language depends on the number of native speakers, but not only. Additionally, once deciding on learning a new language should be also taken into consideration the influence on the worldwide scale of this language.
Consequently, with 24 official languages in the European Union and over 60 minority languages that are spoken on this small continent, it makes Europe a pretty distinct and unique place. Among the other spoken languages, the first position surprisingly goes to Russian, which is heavily predominant in the East of Europe, though, it is quite easy to hear Russian on the streets in Germany. The second place goes to German, while Germany is one of the strongest countries in the EU with a lot of job opportunities. Moreover, it is the most widely-understood language after the English language as it is a popular second or third language for many students. French, actually rather lost its prevalence worldwide in comparison to former times, but it is still widely spoken and is often chosen as a second foreign language among young people. Here I couldn’t mention Spanish, which is the second-most spoken native language in the world, opening numerous counties and another continent as well. Plus probably surprisingly, but the top 5 is closed by Turkish. Besides 70 million native Turkish speakers on the continent, this language is also broadly spoken around the Mediterranean (Macedonia, Greece, Serbia) and other parts of Europe and Central Asia.
At the same time, it is can be a difficult question for young people, which language should they learn? As it may influence their future, both private and professional life. For that, simple questions can help to choose the most suitable language, such as:
- How many native speakers can I reach with this language?
- Do I speak any similar language, which can make a process of learning easier?
- Is it necessary and suitable in my environment (country, job, etc.)?
- How actually I will use it (daily life, at work, for travel and so on)?
Advantages of knowing foreign languages
Certainly, one can say do I need to learn something at all? I am okay with knowing only my mother tongue. But I would argue with those, and taking into account my own experience, it is essential for young people nowadays to comprehend foreign languages, at least English. Still, it is pretty debatable whether English remains the common global language or not. Since the other challenges or rather threats are appearing, for example, the economic growth of China creates more influence in the world, so it may happen that in 30 years Mandarin will be widely spoken.
Another thing is that with the development of modern technologies, it is already possible to communicate with the person from another country without knowing the language and just using direct translators. But yet, it is not widespread, and it is advisable to consider benefits that knowledge of foreign languages brings, especially for youth. Among them: the possibility to meet and communicate with peers from other cultures, embrace intercultural learning, just useful for the private travels, gives opportunities to long-term study or volunteer abroad, and the last but not least, can help to find a better job.
Situations can be different, and what works out in Europe may not be same in Asia or Latin America. Although as a person that speaks three foreign languages and currently learns two more, I can say for sure that it changed my life dramatically and still does it every day. Having personal contact with people from all over the world is an excellent possibility for my personal development as well.