Language statistics of the European Union


Languages spoken as a percentage of the EU (15 members)

Column 1 = % who speak it as a mother tongue

Column 2 = % who speak it NOT as a mother tongue

Column 3 = % who speak it as mother tongue or as a foreign language.



German 24%   8%   32%

French 16%   12%   28%

English 16%   31%   47%

Italian 16%   2%   18%

Spanish 11%   4%   15%

Dutch 6%   1%   2%

Greek 3%   0%   3%

Portuguese 3%   0%   3%

Swedish 2%   1%   3%

Danish 1%   1%   2%

Finnish 1%   0%   1%

Russian  ?%  ?5   1%



English is the language most widely spoken in the EU.  It is the mother tongue for 16% of the EU.  A further 31% of the EU speak it well enough to hold a conversation.


The ranking of languages closely follows the ranking by numbers of inhabitants - except for English.


German is the mother tongue for 24% of the EU  It is spoken well enough as a "second" language by 8% of the EU.


French is spoken by 28% of the EU.  Half of them are native speakers.


Italian has as many native speakers as French.  Only 2% of the EU speak it as  a second language.


15% of the EU speak Spanish: 11% as mother tongue and 4% as a foreign language.


Russian as a foreign language


Russian is the most widely spoken foreign language in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia (if Czech is discounted).


Percentage of the population speaking Russian as a foreign language


Lithuania  83%

Latvia  59%

Estonia  53%

Slovakia  30%

Poland  28%

Bulgaria  21%

Czech R  21%

Romania  3%

Hungary  2%

Slovenia  2%

Cyprus  1%

Turkey  1%



Speaking another language well enough to hold a conversation 


45% of EU citizens can take part in a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue.


In Luxembourg, nearly everyone can do this.


In the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden more than 8 in 10 can do this.


In the UK, Ireland and Portugal less than a third can do this.


In the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden 3 out of 4 can speak English well enough to hold a conversation.


French is one of the official languages of Belgium and Luxenbourg.  In Belgium 38% can speak French well enough to hold a conversation.  In Luxembourg 86% can speak French well enough, and 77% who do not consider German as their mother tongue can speak German.


In the Netherlands 59% can speak German quite well.  In Denmark 49% can.


The proportion of EU citizens who can speak English well enough to hold a conversation continues to rise.


The languages considered to be the most useful to know  in the EU are:

English 69%

French 37%

German 26%

Spanish 15%


The most taught languages 


English is the first foreign language in education in all EU Member States (excluding UK, Ireland and Malta). French is nearly always the second. 


English is learnt by 26% of primary pupils. French by 4%.


The language most taught as a foreign language in secondary schools is English. 


89% of pupils learn English. 


In Denmark, Germany, Spain, France, Austria, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands over 90% of all secondary pupils learn English.


32% of pupils learn French, 18% German and 8% Spanish.


EU (15 members)

45 indigenous languages are in everyday use

Of these 11 are official languages of the EU

Irish is a "treaty language"


EU population (15 members): 370 m

Of these nearly 50 m speak a language other than the official language of the member state where they live.

Total EU (25 countries)



Sources :  EU web-site and others