Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Feb 22 14:42:33 UTC 2006

>>From the

New Europe keener to learn German than French

21.02.2006 - 15:09 CET | By Andrew Rettman EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS -

EU enlargement is pushing German ahead of French on the European language
ladder, with non-indigenous languages such as Russian and Turkish also on
the rise, a new European Commission study has shown. The number of German
speakers and English speakers jumped 6 percent each between 2001 and 2005,
hitting 14 percent and 38 percent respectively, while the rate of French
speakers rose just 3 points to 14 percent.

"With the enlargement of the European Union, the balance between French
and German is slowly changing. Clearly more citizens in the new member
states master German, while their skills in French and Spanish are
scarce," the report stated. Almost two thirds of Europeans feel English is
the most important foreign language for adults and children to learn. But
support for learning French as a foreign language dived from 40 percent to
25 percent in the past five years, while support for German slipped just 1
point to 22 percent.

France is fiercely protective of its linguistic heritage, with the
Paris-based Academie Francaise sending out ambassadors to eastern Europe
to promote French studies and awarding prizes to foreign francophones. The
academie also enforces the so-called "loi Toubon" of 1994 against the
usage of foreign terms in French public sector texts, providing French
options for new words, such as "courriel" instead of "email."

"We are aware of international trends, but we want to show that French is
able to express reality equally well," academie lexicographer
Jean-Matthieu Pasqualini told EUobserver. "There is a danger that the
value of French could be forgotten in the language of international
science and finance."

Exotic tongues on the rise

The new study also put Russian on the map as the joint-fourth most popular
language in the EU, equal with Spanish on 6 percent. The Russian jump
comes mainly from the Baltic States, with about one fifth of Latvians and
Estonians citing Russian as their mother tongue while half of all
Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians cite Russian as the most important
foreign language to learn. Eight percent of Germans quoted non-indigenous
languages, mostly Turkish, as their maternal language, with EU candidate
Bulgaria also recording 8 percent Turkish mother tongue speakers.

Non-indigenous mother tongues account for 5 percent of the British
population and 3 percent of the French, with Indian languages and Arabic
dominant. The report did not cover Chinese, but European Commission
language policy director Jacques Delmoly predicted a "boom" in EU Chinese
language learning in the next few years due to China's economic growth.

Model Europeans

The typical European speaking multiple languages is likely to be young,
well-educated and working in a managerial-type position, the study says.
The model polyglot is likely to have been born outside his country of
residence and to live in a small member state that has more than one
official language, such as Belgium, or in a country that has strong ties
with neighbours, such as Slovenia. Anglophone and southern European
countries came bottom of the class, with 66 percent of the Irish and 62
percent of Brits saying they do not speak any foreign language, while over
55 percent of Italians, Portuguese and Spaniards said the same.

The commission itself recently came under fire for shedding Spanish,
Italian and French translators in order to take on staff from new member
states. With 21 official EU languages and 60 other regional and
non-indigenous tongues present in Europe, Tuesday's (21 February)
commission press briefing on multilingualism was conducted in English,
German and French only. The study said 55 percent of EU citizens believe
all EU communication should be handled in just one language, but ducked
the sensitive question of "which one?"

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