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Learning English as a Second Language: Who in Europe Speaks It Best?

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Twenty per cent of the world speaks English, a total of 1.5 billion people. Of these, only 360 million speak it as their first language. Given these statistics, it isn’t surprising that English is one of the most frequently studied languages around the globe.

What other countries speak English?

In the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and United States, most people speak English as their first language. However, English is also an official language in over 40 other countries including Fiji, Hong Kong, Malta, Ireland, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

What language does Europe speak?

It is important to know the difference between the terms “Europe” and “European Union,” also known as “the EU.” Europe is a continent made up of 50 countries, although there is some dispute regarding whether Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia can be termed “European.” Europe is bordered by the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and several geographical features that lie in Eastern Europe, including the Ural Mountains.

The EU is an association comprised of 27 European countries. The purpose of the EU is to foster political and economic cooperation among its members. Not all European countries are members of the EU. The majority of European countries have their own native languages. In Poland, the majority speak Polish as a first language, the majority of Turkish people speak Turkish, and so on.

You may be wondering what European countries speak English. In some cases, European countries share official languages. For example, German is the primary language in Germany, but it is also widely spoken in Austria. French is the primary language in France, but it is also spoken in Monaco and Switzerland. In Belgium, most inhabitants speak Dutch or French. Research shows that 13% of EU citizens speak English as their native language.

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EU countries that speak English

Here’s a list of English-speaking countries in the EU, together with the percentage of people in each country who can hold a conversation in English:

Austria (40%)

Belgium (29%)

Bulgaria (12%)

Cyprus* (43%)

Croatia (81%)

Czech Republic (12%)

Denmark (53%)

Estonia (23%)

Finland (45%)

France (24%)

Germany (32%)

Greece (33%)

Hungary (12%)

Ireland* (98%)

Italy (14%)

Latvia (27%)

Lithuania (21%)

Luxembourg (31%)

Malta (62%)

Netherlands (38%)

Poland (20%)

Portugal (15%)

Romania (17%)

Slovakia (13%)

Slovenia (34%)

Spain (12%)

Sweden (54%)

United Kingdom* (94%)

A * indicates that English is recognized as an official language.

As you can see from the list above, there is great variation between EU countries. Among countries who do not have English listed as an official language, Sweden, Malta, and Denmark are home to the highest number of speakers.

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Difference in English proficiency by age

The picture becomes more complex when we break down these figures by age. For example, 61% of Danish people aged 15 to 34 speak English, compared to just 45% of those aged 55 and over. In Greece, the difference is even more pronounced; 50% of young people speak English, but only 14% of the older generation can do so.

These statistics probably reflect changes to educational practices in schools, along with an increasing trend towards globalization coupled with easy access to English media. When all countries and age groups are taken into account, 38% of people in EU countries state that they have a grasp of conversational English.

Other languages, such as Hindi, Mandarin Chinese, and Arabic are becoming increasingly important throughout the world, but English remains the most influential second language. Many people regard English language ability as a skill that opens many professional and personal doors, opening up a host of opportunities in Europe and beyond.