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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 19:35 GMT
Britain lags behind on languages
Boy writing French words on blackboard
Britons are lagging behind in speaking foreign languages
Britons and the Irish are bottom of the European league for speaking a second language, a new EC survey says.

Sixty-six percent of respondents from Ireland and 62% from the UK admitted not knowing any language other than their mother tongue.

This compared with 42% across the EU and 1% in top-scoring Luxembourg.

About 1,000 people were interviewed in each of the EU countries in November and December last year for the survey, entitled Europeans and their Languages.

The "Eurobarometer" survey monitors EU progress towards the union's long-term objective for all citizens to speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue.

There is a very arrogant attitude that English is better, and a lack of understanding of the importance of learning foreign languages
Cilt

It found that 38% of Britons asked said they spoke at least one extra language, 18% at least two, and 6% at least three.

This compared with an EU average of 56% at least one, 28% at least two, and 11% at least three.

The survey also confirmed that English is the most widely-spoken foreign language throughout Europe with 38% of EU citizens able to have a conversation in English.

Tamzin Caffrey, of the National Centre for Learning Languages (Cilt), said the rest of Europe's ability to speak English had an impact on Britons' willingness to learn other languages.

"The survey results are not a huge surprise to us," she told the BBC News website.

"There is a very arrogant attitude that English is better, and a lack of understanding of the importance of learning foreign languages.

"If, for example, you take a UK graduate that only speaks English, with the same level of experience and qualifications as a European graduate with two additional languages, our graduate's at a disadvantage."

'Funding problems'

The UK also had one of the lowest scores when respondents were asked about the availability of language courses.

Of those asked, 40% said the availability was good, compared with an EU average of 51%.

We are working to encourage a love of languages from an early age
DfES

Ms Caffrey said that, in terms of adult education, there were funding problems with colleges unable to afford to run small classes.

The survey also found that Britons had a low opinion of their linguistic abilities with 24% stating that "people in my country are good at speaking other languages", compared with an EU average of 44%.

But the survey also suggests many Britons think earlier foreign language education may offer an answer.

Some 56% of British respondents said they thought 0 to 5 years was the best age to start learning a language - in most countries the majority answered six to 12 years.

The government's National Languages Strategy for England aims to provide foreign language lessons for every eight to 11-year-old in primary schools by the end of the decade.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We are working to encourage a love of languages from an early age.

"This will create positive attitudes to language learning and lead to more young people choosing to further their language studies in school and beyond."


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