Can’t Speak Any Foreign Language

What share of each European country’s population can’t speak any foreign language?

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Map of the percentage of the population in Europe that can't speak any foreign language.

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We often see maps about the English language proficiency of countries or how many languages people speak on average. This map takes a slightly different angle. It only looks at the foreign languages that people can speak.

The Nordic and Baltic countries have the largest share of its population that can speak a foreign language. More than 90% of their population can speak a foreign language. The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Cyprus and Malta also have a very high share of people that can speak a foreign language.

The highest rate of people that can’t speak any foreign language, can be found in the UK. With English as their native language, it’s not too surprising that they feel less of a need to learn a foreign language. However, I find the difference with Ireland, where English is also the official language, quite interesting. Just behind the UK are Romanians and Bosnians, where there’s also a large share of the population that can’t speak any foreign language.

Data for this map comes from Eurostat. The language skills in the source data are self-reported. For someone to be classified as someone who can speak a foreign language, they had to indicate to have at least basic knowledge of a foreign language. People could report their language skill of a foreign language as ‘very basic’, ‘basic’, ‘good’ or ‘proficient’. Basic is describes as: “I can understand and use the most common everyday expressions. I use the language in relation to familiar things and situations”.

Another question that arises is, what is considered a foreign language? The source is not clear about that. I’m going to assume that all de facto official languages are not considered foreign. So for Switzerland, I assume French, German, Italian and Romansh are considered native language. Same for Ireland where I assume both Irish and English are considered native languages. Meaning that I highly doubt the lower percentage in Ireland compared to the UK is caused by people speaking Irish.

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