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Use of english language across the EU continues to grow

23.11.2005.Use of English as a foreign language by people in the European Union (EU) is continuing to grow, according to the findings of the latest Eurobarometer survey conducted by TNS Opinion & Social for the European Commission (EC). 

More than one third (34 per cent) of adults living in the EU say that they are able to use English in addition to their mother tongue – an increase of two percentage points since 2001.  Given that 13 per cent of people in the EU already use English as their first language (UK, Ireland), this means that almost half (47 per cent) of all adults in the EU are now able to speak English.

The findings also reveal that one in two citizens of the EU now speaks at least one language other than their mother tongue [1] .

[1] The mother tongue of the respondent is in most of the cases one of the national languages of the country of residence. ‘National language’ is one having full official status in the Member State.

Among the other most widely spoken languages are German (12 per cent as a foreign language and 18 per cent as a mother tongue) and French (11 per cent versus 12 per cent).

Following EU enlargement, the total proportion of people speaking German (as a mother tongue or as a foreign language) has fallen by two percentage points since 2001 – although the proportion of those who speak it as a foreign language has increased by four percentage points.  In addition, the overall proportion of French speakers have fallen three percentage points – while the proportion of those who speak French as a foreign language is unchanged.

When compared with results of the 15 EU Members States surveyed in 2001, the percentage of people who declare themselves able to take part in a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue has increased by three percentage points (from 47 to 50 per cent).

The accession of the 10 new Member States has increased the diversity of the language map within the European Union, with Polish and Russian now appearing in the list of most commonly used languages in the EU.  At the same time, the findings suggest that increased mobility inside and immigration from outside the EU do not appear to have a significant impact on the overall figures for language use.


Respondents assess their level of foreign languages spoken to be ‘good’. When the five most widely-used foreign languages are taken into account, over half of the respondents rate the level of their skills as being ‘good’ or ‘very good’ (English 69 per cent; Spanish 65 per cent; German 58 per cent, French 55 per cent; Russian 54 per cent). Overall, for each language covered by the research, respondents assess their skills to be better when compared to 2001. This is mainly due to increased confidence in their ability among citizens in the old Member States.

At a country level, English is the most widely spoken foreign language in 16 Member States, and is mentioned most often as a ‘first’ foreign language.

Slovakia is the only country where English is not mentioned among the three most widely spoken languages. French is the most widely known language other than the mother tongue in the UK and Luxembourg, and German in the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Commenting on the Eurobarometer findings, Marita Carballo, Global Head of TNS Polling & Social said: “Use of English continues to increase across the EU, but – as yet – increased mobility inside the EU and higher levels of immigration from outside the EU are not having a significant impact on the language map. What is particularly interesting is the high proportion of people in the EU who now claim to speak at least two languages.  With the availability of anglophone media increasing  – in part because of greater access to satellite TV and the internet – and with more people travelling abroad, a growing proportion of EU citizens are gaining first-hand experience of the benefits of understanding and using English and it is likely that this proportion will continue to grow over the coming years.”


Methodological background:

Fieldwork: 9 May and 14 June 2005

Number of interviews conducted: 29 328 persons interviewed face-to-face in the 25 Member States of the EU, and in the accession countries (Bulgaria and Romania), the candidate countries (Croatia and Turkey), and among the Turkish Cypriot Community [1] .

About TNS:

TNS is a market information group. We are the world’s largest custom research company and a leading provider of social and political polling. We are also a major supplier of consumer panel, TV audience measurement and media intelligence services.

TNS operates a global network spanning 70 countries and employs over 13,000 people. We provide market information and measurement, together with insights and analysis, to local and multinational organisations.

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About TNS Polling & Social Media Alert:

As a leading information provider, TNS wants to cast new light on currently debated topics presenting data collected on a European or International basis. TNS Polling & Social Media Alert will be published every week.

For more information and detailed results on a country-by-country basis, please contact:

Marita Carballo, Global Head of TNS Polling & Social

Tel: +44 (0) 7739 856 902 or email:  

Leendert de Voogd, Managing Director, TNS Opinion & Social

Tel: +32 (0) 10 24 5616 or email:

Katie Zurita, International PR Manager, TNS

Tel: +44 (0) 208 967 4787 or email:

Note to Editors:

These findings are based on TNS Opinion & Social research conducted between May and June 2005. All data discussed in the above announcement is based on the opinions of those surveyed. TNS will only support data which is published, in the context we have presented it and our own interpretation of these findings. We cannot be held responsible for any other interpretation.

[1] Cyprus as a whole is one of the 25 European Union Member States. However, the “acquis communautaire” is suspended in the part of the country that is not controlled by the government of the Republic of Cyprus. For practical reasons, only the interviews conducted in the part of the country controlled by the government of the Republic of Cyprus are recorded in the category “CY” and included in the EU25 average. The interviews conducted in the part of the country not controlled by the government of the Republic of Cyprus are recorded in the category “CY(tcc)” [tcc: Turkish Cypriot Community].


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