foreign language is a language not spoken by the people of a certain
place: for example, not only English but also Late Old Japanese is a foreign language in
It is also a language not spoken in the
native country of the person referred to, i.e. an English speaker
living in Japan can say that Japanese
is a foreign language to him or
her. These two characterizations do not exhaust the possible
definitions, however, and the label is occasionally applied in ways
that are variously misleading or factually inaccurate.
A German student learning
Some children learn more than one language from birth or from a
very young age: they are bilingual
. These children can be
said to have two mother tongues: neither language is foreign to
that child, even if one language is a foreign language for the vast
majority of people in the child's birth country. For example, a child
learning English from her English mother and
Japanese at school in Japan can speak both English and Japanese,
but neither is a foreign language to her.
Foreign language education and ability
- See main article: Language
Most schools around the world teach at least one foreign language.
nearly all students in Europe studied at
least one foreign language as part of their compulsory education,
the only exception being Ireland, where
primary and secondary schoolchildren learn both Irish and English, but neither is considered
a foreign language (although Irish pupils do study a third European
On average in Europe, at the start of foreign
language teaching, learners have lessons for three to four hours a
week. Compulsory lessons in a foreign language normally start at
the end of primary school
start of secondary school
Luxembourg, Norway and Malta, however,
the first foreign language is studied at age six, and in Flanders at age 10. In Wales, all
children are taught Welsh from the
first year of primary school, which is a foreign language to the
majority of the population.
The Welsh language is also
compulsory up to the age of 16, although a formal GCSE
qualification is optional.
In some countries, learners have lessons taken entirely in a
foreign language: for example, more than half of European countries
with a minority/regional language community use partial immersion
to teach both the minority and the state language.
Commission’s White Paper on Education and Training emphasized
the importance of schoolchildren learning at least two foreign
languages before upper secondary education.
The Lisbon Summit
of 2000 defined languages as one
of the five key skills .
Despite the high rate of foreign language teaching in schools, the
number of adults claiming to speak a foreign language is generally
lower than might be expected. This is particularly true of native English
speakers: in 2004 a British survey
showed that only one in 10 UK workers
could speak a foreign language and less than 5% could count to 20
in a second language.
In 2001, a European Commission survey
found that 65.9% of people in the UK spoke only their native
Since the 1990s, the Common
European Framework of Reference for Languages
has tried to
standardize the learning of languages across Europe.
Research into foreign language learning
In 2004 a
report by the Michel Thomas Language Centre in the United Kingdom suggested that speaking a second language could
increase an average worker's salary by £3,000 a year, or £145,000
in a lifetime.
Further results showed that nine out of 10
British companies thought their businesses could benefit from
better language skills. Studies show that a person that is
bilingual or multilingual, can make a greater salary than a
computer programmer or engineer because they can use their
abilities in foreign language to obtain success in a wide range of
career paths. Also due to the increase of international population,
a multilingual person can easily communicate and translate to
2004, a study by University College London (UCL) examined the brains of 105 people who could
speak more than one language.
The study found that people
who learned a second language when younger had denser grey matter
than those who learned one later.
Grey matter is the part of the brain where information is
Other research has shown that early exposure to a second language
increases divergent thinking strategies, helping not only in
language-related tasks, but also in areas such as math. Children
early on have different ways of expressing themselves, such that
they better understand there is more than one way to look at a
problem and that there is more than one solution.
Children in the Flemish Community of Belgium start
learning French at age 10, English at 12 or 13
and, if chosen so, mostly German or Spanish at age 15 or 16, but with only
the first two being obligatory. In the Brussels
Capital Region, however, French is taught starting at age