Cobblestone streets, some of the world’s tastiest culinary traditions, centuries of history and architecture … and languages, many languages. Any guesses?
Yes, we’re talking about Europe! In this colorful continent another language is (literally) around the corner and that alone is a reason to celebrate. Today, as every 26 September since 2001, it’s European Day of Languages (EDL)! This celebration aims to encourage and promote lifelong language learning across Europe as a key tool for achieving greater intercultural understanding.
To mark the linguistic and cultural heritage of such a vibrant and unique place, here are some facts you absolutely need to know about Europe’s languages. Discover if you already knew any of them!
Over 200 Languages
The Council of Europe speaks of about 220-230 indigenous languages and language groups. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, with around 6500 languages worldwide, it is actually roughly 3% of the world's total.
24 Official EU Languages
The EU has 24 official languages. Any EU national have the right to use any of them to contact the EU institutions, and they are obliged to reply in the same language. That way multilingualism is promoted!
Besides, the EU is home to over 60 indigenous regional or minority languages, including Basque, Catalan, Frisian, Saami and Yiddish.
The Most Spoken One
See you coming… thinking about English, right? Quite far from the truth! Russian is the most widespread language in Europe, if we mean first-language speakers. It is true that English, Spanish, and Portuguese (three European languages) outnumber Russian in terms of native speakers but the majority of the population using these languages as their mother tongue lives outside Europe.
English Still Rules…
English is, on the other hand, the most spoken second language in the continent followed by German and French. Besides, it remains the EU’s most spoken language by far!
The Most Ancient One
The Basque language is the oldest spoken language in Europe today. Considered “the ultimate mystery” and spoken natively by some of the Basque people who live in Spain and France, Basque is entirely unrelated to any existing or extinct language. It was spoken even before Spain came under Roman rule!
The Most Multilingual Country… and the Top Monolingual One
Luxemburg, as tiny it is, has three official languages: French, German and Luxembourgish. It sounds quite modest, but most native citizens speak all three languages fluently. What a wonder!
And what about the top monolingual country? Studies show that little more than a third of Brits can manage a conversation in a second language. However, oddly enough, the most linguistically diverse city in the world is indeed the capital of the UK -- In London, over 300 different languages are spoken!