Read about language learning in the UK and then do the exercises.


How many languages can you speak? British people are generally not very good language learners. In a recent survey, 62% of the population only speak English! 

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably studying English. Maybe you speak a couple of other languages too. What are the British like when it comes to learning languages?


Brits are famous for not speaking foreign languages. According to a survey published by the European Commission, this bad reputation is totally justified. The results of the survey state that the British are officially the worst language learners in Europe! Let’s look at some statistics:

  • 62% of people surveyed can’t speak any other language apart from English.
  • 38% of Britons speak at least one foreign language, 18% speak two and only 6% of the population speak three or more.
  • The European Union average showed that 56% speak at least one foreign language, 28% speak at least two and 11% speak three or more. The survey confirmed that English was the most widely-spoken foreign language. 51% of EU citizens can have a conversation in English.


Learning a foreign language is not a popular option at school in Britain. In UK schools it is common for children to start studying a foreign language at the age of 11 and many students give up languages completely at 14. So why don’t young people continue with languages at school? Research suggests that students think that it is more difficult to get good grades in languages than in other subjects such as science or history. The British government is now looking at different ways to improve language learning at school. One idea is to start much younger; there are plans to introduce foreign languages from the age of 5.

Which languages?

Another plan is to give school children more choice. The languages traditionally studied in British schools have been French, Spanish and German. Now the government is encouraging teachers to expand the range of languages taught to include Arabic, Mandarin and Urdu.

Mandarin Chinese is predicted to become the second most popular foreign language learned in UK schools. It is already studied by more children than German or Russian. Only French and Spanish are more popular. Gareth from Wales says 'I am learning Chinese, and find it fun.' Another student, Thomas from London, says 'Just telling people that I learn Mandarin impresses people. Even having a very basic level gives you an advantage.' Brighton College has become the first independent school to make Mandarin a compulsory foreign language. Its headmaster Richard Cairns said, 'One of my key tasks is to make sure pupils are equipped for the realities of the 21st century. One of those realities is that China has the fastest-growing economy in the world.'

It may be an ambitious task to change the Brits’ attitude to learning languages but the government is determined to try!

Total votes: 715

How many languages can you speak? Do you like learning English? How important is it to you to speak foreign languages?


Blue sea's picture

Well,I am Egyptian and I can speak Arabic and English .At my school I learned French at preparatory school and at secondary school we had options at senior one to choose German or Italian or French.I chose Italian because I think that learning it it's a piece of cake it's easy to write what you listen and also easy to be pronounced.But i think that i learned basics in those languages at school . I want to learn more about them.I feel interest when i learn languages . Recently I've been taking English courses and it's giving me confidence.I learn English at school but not in a good approach . Now I want to finish English courses .I just want to keep focus on English and then take French,Italian and German courses.Hope to achieve my goals.:)

89 users have voted.
lady96's picture

Here, in Kazakhstan, you need to know at least two languages: Russsian and Kazakh. Russian is my native language, and I can say that I know Kazakh language rather good. I like learning languages. In fact, it's my hobby. I learn English at home and at school. But last year I decided that I need to learn one more language, so I started learning French. French is really difficult, but I like it. And, who knows, maybe in a few years time, I'll be able to speak French...(although sometimes it seems to me that this will never happen). I would also like to learn Spanish some day, because I think that when you know different languages, you've got the whole world in your hands! :)

88 users have voted.
Little Dragon's picture

Well, I'm Vietnamese and I can speak a little English. I'm pretty good at English. You know, I study English for my interest not just for studying or work. I love English. I like to watch video which talk in English, but slowly. If people in the clip speak so fast, I can't hear anything.

95 users have voted.
Jonathan - Coordinator's picture

Hi Little Dragon! I can see that you're doing very well at English! If you like videos, have you seen our video sections? Have a look at Video UK (in English Skills Practice) and Video Zone (in Free Time). You can find videos in the Grammar Snacks too! Let us know what you think!

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

89 users have voted.
greenlover10's picture

hi. Im from Indonesia. i always speak Indonesian. for english, just a little. i think english is very important language, because to entry an university or to find a job, english skill is required.

82 users have voted.