How many languages can you speak? British people are generally not very good language learners. In a recent survey, 62 per cent 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 per cent of people surveyed can’t speak any other language apart from English.
  • 38 per cent of Britons speak at least one foreign language, 18 per cent speak two and only 6 per cent of the population speak three or more.
  • The European Union average showed that 56 per cent speak at least one foreign language, 28 per cent speak at least two and 11 per cent speak three or more. The survey confirmed that English was the most widely-spoken foreign language. 51 per cent 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 five.

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 Chinese and Urdu.

Mandarin 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 attitudes towards learning languages but the government is determined to try!


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


Ashfaq Munir's picture
Ashfaq Munir 4 September, 2012 - 18:28

hey i am from pakistan i want to improve my english.any one suggest me how can i improve my english language speaking skills!best wishess

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AliceHXY's picture
AliceHXY 16 August, 2012 - 04:35

I'm Chinese so I can speak Mandarin Chinese well.I also speak Cantonese with my family.At school we all learn English,it's indeed a useful language all over the world.Learning languages is a hobby of mine.I learn French by myself because I may study in France in the future.Sometimes I try to learn Malay language cause I like it.I enjoy learning foreign languages because I love literature,I want to read more classics and understand them better,and even translate them into Chinese.
The language environment in China is not as well as that in Europe I think.Most Chinese people can only speak Chinese(not always Mandarin but many dialects like Cantonese and Hokkien),many Minority people only speak their own language like Tibetian and Uygur language(of course,many young people can speak Mandarin and even English now).It's not very easy for people here to learn to speak a foreign language fluently and accurately because they just stay here and communicate with Chinese.But lots of people are trying to learn English because there are more and more foreign friends here in our country,and we are glad to greet them.Being able to undertand and use English is almost an essential skill for the young now.Knowing a useful foreign language well,we can associate with foreigners directly and learn more from them.It's also interesting to understand different types of cultures,and respect each of them.

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bookworm's picture
bookworm 15 August, 2012 - 11:09

I can speak russian, turkish, english and I'm learning chinese. I love learning english as well as other languages. It is very important for me to speak foreign languages, because it's how we communicate with other people. By knowing several languages, we can make a lot of foreign friends, and meet knew people. It also increases your level of education and results in having a well-paid job.

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Edelweiss's picture
Edelweiss 14 August, 2012 - 16:39

I am Hungarian, but I live in Romania, so I have to learn Romanian. In the school we have English and German lessons too. I learn French at home. I love learning languages and I think is very important.

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Sophochka's picture
Sophochka 13 August, 2012 - 13:31

I speak Ukrainian and Russian free, English well. Also I can understand Polish. I study Spanish as well, and in future I plan to study Japanese or Chinese.

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smiletomato's picture
smiletomato 27 July, 2012 - 09:15

i can speak Vietnamese and English. i'm learning German and i know the common tongue of French

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Zainab's picture
Zainab 27 July, 2012 - 01:08

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 !

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vena's picture
vena 24 July, 2012 - 13:34

i am a chinese and i am an english major. besides engliah and chinese,i also wanna learn german .because i wanna go there .anyone can give me some advice?thanks!

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Sweet Raspberry's picture
Sweet Raspberry 23 July, 2012 - 11:29

I can speak portuguese very well! It's my mother language!
I also can understand spanish, it's very similar!
Well, I'm trying learn english, I really want do to another country and study... It's my big dream.
Others languages like italian, french and german I know a few words.
Japanese only one ahaha (yeah, it's difficult guys!, but nice!)

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Blue sea's picture
Blue sea 22 July, 2012 - 22:35

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.:)

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lady96's picture
lady96 21 July, 2012 - 12:43

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! :)

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Little Dragon's picture
Little Dragon 20 June, 2012 - 07:47

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.

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
Jonathan - Coor... 20 June, 2012 - 08:54

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)

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greenlover10's picture
greenlover10 9 June, 2012 - 19:43

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.

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