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: 709

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


RehinaParker's picture

I speak albanian and english and little of italian language,,,,, i think that learning foreing language its important in our life and in our future

65 users have voted.
Bora F's picture

I speak english,italian,and a little german ...i think that foreing languages are really important expecialy english....

69 users have voted.
Gabby's picture

Hello! I'm from Brazil and in our schools we learn English and Spanish as foreign languages. English is the most important comercial language and Spanish is the nearest language of us. I like learning languages although it's a little difficult. But is very hard for me learn two or more languages simultaneously, so I'm only studying English now.

57 users have voted.
LiliyaM's picture

I can speak three lenguages:Ukrainian,Russian and English,but just a little((Ukrainian is my native lenguage)I love Ukrainian so much)
In my school we learn Ukrainian,Russian.First part of our class learn English,and second part learn German. And I ,of course,learn English)At the holidays i learn Italian with my the best friend)I love this very very very and very much)
I think,if you know foreign lenguage you can open all world for you)
Thank you so much for this very interesting article))

88 users have voted.
Jonathan - Coordinator's picture

Hi! Thanks for your recent comments! Do you learn any other languages in your school, apart from English (and Albanian)? Are you interested in starting to learn an entirely new language?

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

95 users have voted.
albina gjuzi's picture

Hi! Im Albina from Albania.The most of the time I speak Albanian but in school we speak English too.I think English is an important language to connect with people of other countries.

91 users have voted.
LadyLily5000's picture

I'm from Montenegro so I can speak a lot of the South Slovenian languages including Montenegrin, Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian. At school I'm learning German and English of course. I think it's important to learn languages 'cause we will need them wherever we go. I'd like to learn Japanese. It sounds cool.

98 users have voted.
Jonathan - Coordinator's picture

Wow, that's really impressive! So, what language do you use with your family, your friends and in your school? Thanks for your interesting comments!

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

78 users have voted.
fatmira n's picture

hi,I am from albania.In my family i speak albanian excpect with my sister where i speak english.
my friends i speak albanian and in my school i speak albanian ....

50 users have voted.
Jonathan - Coordinator's picture

Hello everyone! There are so many interesting languages mentioned in your messages: Arabic, Spanish, Kazakh, Hakka, Malay... It would be nice to be able to speak them all, wouldn't it?

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

89 users have voted.
I LOVE TAIWAN's picture

I'm Taiwanese.We also say Chinese.But it is different from China.We say"Traditional Chinese".I think it is more diffucult from Simplified Chinese.Also I can say Taiwanese and a little Hakka.I love to learn a new language.I hope I can learn the Japanese and Spanish one day~:)))

64 users have voted.
Zainab's picture

I'm Bahraini and I can speak Arabic and English very well. I learn English at the British Council Bahrain. I have been there for more than six years and I really enjoy it. When I was younger I always wanted to learn French, but my mum said it's not important honey ! Just focus on your English !

85 users have voted.