Ah, the Eurobarometer, bless it, as ever working hard to figure out just how little people really care about the EU. For once it has spat out some results which are vaguely worth considering.
What with all the exchange programs and grants that the EU has put in place to get students and professionals to study and work abroad for a year, it is only to be expected that the number of bi- and multi-lingual Europeans is increasing. So when the Eurobarometer tells us that their number has actually decreased in comparison to the year 2006, surely we should all throw our arms up in indignation and demand our Euro-tax money back. The latest data on Language Diversity tells us that just above half of all European citizens (54%) (-2% since 2006) are able to have a conversation in at least one other language, and that one quarter (-3% since 2006) speaks at least two additional languages.
The long-term EU objective is that each citizen should acquire practical knowledge of at least two foreign languages, but for the time being, in only eight member states does this apply to a majority of the population – Luxemburg (84%), the Netherlands (77%), Slovenia (67%), Malta (59%), Denmark (58%), Latvia (54%), Lithuania (52%) and Estonia (52%). Note the important presence of Baltic countries in there (where a large segment of the population speaks Russian or other Slavic languages as well as the local tongue) and the dominance of Luxembourg (which has three official languages already, so I can only image two of them are counted as ‘foreign’ for the purposes of this survey).
It seems to me that multilingualism is more a result of a complex political history and possibly good schooling/a subtitling policy for English TV shows rather than anything EU politics has been able to achieve. Which does not mean that they should stop trying. If 77% of Europeans think that the promotion of language skills should be politically prioritised then I’m all for it too, even if French has fallen out of favour (-13%), whilst the perceived utility of Chinese has risen (+12%). Thankfully, overall a whopping 98% believe that learning a language is useful for a child’s future, and surely 98% of Europeans can’t be wrong.