Best Countries for Language Learning

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According to research carried out by Preply, the countries with the best language learning environments are Luxembourg, Sweden, Cyprus, Malta, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Slovenia, Spain and Estonia.

Their Worldwide Language Index was compiled from analyzing data from 30 European countries, plus the USA, on such factors as the number of official languages, the degree of multilingualism, language learning in schools, the level of competence in foreign languages, access to language learning technology, and whether TV and films are subtitled or dubbed.

Overall, Luxembourg scored hightest, so if you grew up in Luxembourg, you are more likely to be successful in learning several languages. Are there any Luxembourgers reading this? Would you agree with this?

Luxembourg has three official languages: Luxembourgish, German and French, and education is in all three languages. English is also taught in schools, and students can choose to learn Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or Chinese. In addition, some classes are taught in Portuguese or English for the children of immigrants [source].

In terms of individual factors, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, Austria, Hungary, France, Latvia, Poland, Italy, Sweden and Croatia all score highly for language learning in school. The countries with the highest level of command of the best known foreign languages include Luxembourg, Sweden and Malta.

The UK only scores highly in the Subtitles, Dubbing and Voiceover category, and the USA scores highly in language diversity.

What this study didn’t look at, as far as I can tell, is whether these countries are also good places to learn languages if you’re from elsewhere. It would be interesting to see how well each country teaches their local language(s) to immigrants or visitors interested in learning them.

Note: this post is sponsored by Preply, an online learning platform, connecting a global network of tens of thousands of active learners and 15,000 verified tutors to study and teach over 50 languages.


The Dutch word onderrichten [ˌɔn.dərˈrɪx.tə(n)] means to teach, instruct or educate. It comes from onder (under-, sub-, lower) and richten (to direct, aim) [source]. So you could say that education in Dutch involves supporting and directing students.

09-11-1949_06528A Max Euwe in de klas

Another Dutch word meaning to teach or educate is onderwijzen [ˌɔn.dərˈʋɛi̯.zə(n)], which comes from onder and wijzen (to point, indicate, direct) [source] – so it has a similiar sense to onderrichten.

An onderwijzer or onderwijzeres is a teacher in a primary / elementary school (lagere school / basisschool) and they provide onderwijs (education, teaching), or more specifically, basisonderwijs (primary / elementary education). A word for to teach is onderwijzen.

A teacher in a secondary school (middelbare school) is a leraar or lerares, they leren (teach) and they might be found in a leraarskamer / lerarenkamer (staffroom).

Other words for education are opleiding and opvoeding. Opleiding means education, training or a programme, and comes from opleiden (to lead up; to bring up, educate; to coach, train), from op (up) and leiden (to lead) [source].

Opvoeding means education (at home), upbringing, raising (children) and comes from opvoeden (to raise, to bring up (a child)), from op (up) and voeden (to feed) [source].

The English word education comes from the Middle French éducation (education, upbringing), from Latin ēducātiō (breeding, bringing up, rearing), from ēdūcō (I lead, draw, take out, raise up), from ex (out, away, up) and dūcō (I lead, guide, conduct) [source]. So it has a similar meaning to onderrichten and onderwijzen.

The English words teacher and teach come from the Old English tǣċan (to show, declare, demonstrate; teach, instruct, train), from the Proto-Germanic *taikijaną (to show), from the Proto-Indo-European *deyḱ- (to show) [source].

Thanks to Anna Rutten for inspiring this post

Compulsory languages

In an article I came across today in the Irish Times the writer, an Irish speaker, wonders whether the compulsory teaching of Irish language in schools in Ireland is the best way to keep the language alive. He argues that those who are interested in the language will continue to learn it and speak it even if it is no longer compulsory in schools. I’ve seen suggestions like this many times for Irish and other minority languages, and it is difficult to say what is best as there is some truth in the idea that making a subject compulsory isn’t necessarily the best way to get people to study it.

What are your thoughts on this?

‘Academic’ style language teaching

I’ve noticed that when some people write about language learning, particularly those who encourage you to learn languages on your own, they often make disparaging remarks about the ‘academic’ style of teaching found in language classes. Apparently this style of teaching is boring, dry, focused on grammar and learning vocabulary, and/or has too few opportunities to speak the language you’re learning. I suspect these ideas are based on personal experiences which are generalised to include all languages classes.

My own experiences of language classes are quite different, especially the ones I’ve done in Wales and Ireland for Welsh and Irish, where speaking and listening are the main focus. The classes I took in Chinese and Japanese at university were more focused on reading and writing than speaking and listening, however there were some conversation oppportunities. At secondary school my French and German classes included some speaking practise, especially when I was studying for my A Levels.

What are your own experiences? Are you involved in teaching languages, or studying them? What methods and approaches are used?

Mandarin in UK schools

According to an article I found today in The Independent there is a dire shortage of qualified teachers of Mandarin Chinese in the UK – only about 100 at the moment – and at the same time increasing numbers of schools want to offer Mandarin lessons. Apparently some 500 schools in the UK currently teach Mandarin, though most do so as a taster course or as an after school club.

The government has a plan to train a thousand new Mandarin teachers, but that’s going to take quite a while. In the meantime one school mentioned in the article is using video conferencing to provide Mandarin lessons, which is a good temporary solution, though not as good as having a real, live teacher in the classroom.

So if those learning Mandarin in school continue studying it at university, there should be plenty of jobs available to them as teachers, at least.

Kurdish in Turkish schools

According to an article I came across today, the Turkish government plan to introduce Kurdish language lessons in schools, if there is suffient demand. About 12% of Turkey’s population speaks Kurdish, so it’s likely that there will be demand for these lesson, especially in Eastern Turkey, where most of the Kurds live.

Until 2002 there were severe restrictions on the use of Kurdish in education and broadcast media, and the use of Kurdish names containing the letters X, W and Q, which are not used in Turkish, was banned. In schools all children are taught in Turkish, regardless of whether they speak it or not. This is the first time that Kurdish has been taught in public schools, and while it’s better than nothing, teaching the language for a few hours a week as if it were a foreign language is not ideal. Kurdish politicians and teachers would like to see the language used as a medium of instruction for Kurds at all levels of education.

Do any of you speak Kurdish or are you learning it?


According to an article I found today, l’Assemblea regionale siciliana (the Sicilian Regional Assembly) has voted unanimously in favour of the introduction of lessons in Sicilian language and culture in Sicily’s schools at all levels from next year. The aim is to preserve “l’immenso patrimonio storico e letterario della Sicilia” (the immense historical and literary heritage of Sicily). How this will be implemented, much it will cost and whether there are sufficient qualified teachers are issues that still need to be dealt with.

Perhaps a better way to encourage the continued use of Sicilian would be to use it as a medium of instruction, at least at primary level.

Language teaching in schools

According to an article I found today, the majority of business managers in the Czech Republic who were surveyed by Czech Position think that at least two foreign languages (English plus one or more others) should be compulsory in Czech schools.

This came in reaction to a proposal from the National Economic Council (NERV) that the only compulsory language in schools should be English, as Czechs who speak English can manage without other languages and would do better to concentrate on such subjects as as law, finance or IT. Currently English plus German, Spanish or French are compulsory in schools and the Education Minister supports the NERV proposal. Many managers in large companies do not agree however, and think that knowledge of a foreign language or two in addition to English is necessary, especially as more than half of the Czech Republic’s foreign trade is with German-speaking countries.

Not all of those surveyed were in favour of the study of more than one foreign language (English) in schools. One comment, for example, was that “for butchers, joiners or chimney sweeps, I consider teaching foreign languages on top of the rudiments of English to be a waste of money”, and another comment was that “not every child is talented enough to manage two or more languages as part of compulsory education.”

This makes interesting reading from the UK, where the study of one foreign language is compulsory only up to the age of 14, and it’s relatively few pupils continue their language studies after that.

Languages in schools

According to an article I found today in The Telegraph, the British government have decided to tinker with the education system yet again and plan to reintroduce compulsory foreign languages in secondary schools up to the add of 16. Their plan is to make languages one of five core subjects along with English, mathematics, a science and one of the humanities.

I understand from friends who work in education that such reforms and changes rarely have much time to settle before the next lot come along. It’s only six years since the requirement for languages in secondary schools was dropped, for example.

Do you think it’s a good idea to make the study of languages compulsory in schools?

Budget Cuts Threaten Foreign Language Education

Today we have a guest post by Alvina Lopez

Both in the United States and Europe, and most recently in the UK, higher education budget cuts have threatened many aspects of university education that were once taken for granted. Particularly hard hit have been humanities and arts departments. Cutting funds for foreign language study seems to be the latest trend.

At the beginning of October, The State University of New York (SUNY) Albany made unprecedented cuts to its foreign language offerings, announcing that it would completely eliminate its French, Russian, Italian, and Classics departments. The move sparked an outcry, not just in New York, nor simply in the United States. Recently, over 13,000 people from around the world signed a petition protesting its foreign language program cuts, including signees from 37 countries in Asia, Europe, and the Pacific, according to a Times Union article.

While SUNY’s cuts are at the forefront of media coverage reporting on threats to foreign language study in the United States, the school is hardly the only one. In the UK, massive budget cuts may sacrifice one of its oldest teacher exchange programs run by the non-profit organization, the English Trust for European Education (ETEE). According to a PRWire article, the Foreign Language Assistant program has been running for the past century, enabling UK students to serve as teaching assistants in Europe, where they further develop their language skills and cultural understanding. The program also brings in foreign language teachers from abroad.

Denmark, too, is experiencing cuts to university foreign language departments. A University World News article reports that more than twenty foreign languages are under threat of elimination or will merge with other language groups. Copenhagen Business School Professor Emeritus Robert Phillipson was quoted as saying, “It is lunatic for Denmark not to maintain strong research and teaching environments for a wide range of languages.”

While it is typical for humanities and arts programs to get the ax during periods of economic difficulty, slashing funding for foreign language education is short-sighted. Learning foreign languages isn’t simply a luxury, and to treat it as such is to ignore the fact that countries and cultures are not isolated enclaves. In order to get on in this world of rapid globalization, being multi-literate is absolutely essential. If our leaders don’t recognize this, who will?

About the writer
This guest post was contributed by Alvina Lopez, who writes for accredited online schools. She welcomes your comments at: