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Popular Second Languages in Europe

Within the U.S., a growing number of people are beginning to speak more than one language.

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Within the U.S., a growing number of people are beginning to speak more than one language. While it’s still quite common to run into U.S. citizens who speak only one language, slowly but surely more and more people are becoming bilingual. In our digital age, where globalization and Ecommerce is the norm, speaking more than one language is increasingly helpful and even necessary for people in the U.S., which could explain why more of our citizens are becoming bilingual. This may sound like quite an accomplishment on the part of the American people. But the truth is that people from other parts of the world often speak at least two languages and many times more than that. Europe is one good example.

There are, as of the time of this writing, 24 officially recognized languages spoken in European countries, but there are an additional 60 “unofficial” languages that are commonly spoken by both European citizens and migrant populations. It is estimated that over half of all Europeans can effectively communicate in one other language, and about one-quarter of Europeans can speak two languages in addition to their native tongue, while a smaller number (estimated to be about 10%) speak at least three different languages. There are a variety of reasons why speaking other languages is more common in Europe than in the U.S., but perhaps the most significant is the fact that European countries are smaller overall than the U.S., sharing a continent in which people commonly travel back and forth from one country to another and do business with people from different nations. The U.S., on the other hand, is insular simply by virtue of its size and location – it’s quite easy to live inside the U.S. and never travel to another country.

Whatever the reasons may be, there is no doubt that the majority of Europeans speak at least one other language. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most popular second language among residents of Europe is English. This is understandable considering the fact that English is widely recognized as one of the official languages of the European Union and remains so even after Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Coming in second as the most popular second language in Europe is French; third is German; fourth is Spanish; and fifth is Russian. It’s interesting to note that in many of the smaller European countries – the Netherlands, Sweden, and Luxembourg, to name a few – an estimated 90% of all residents speak a second language, and many speak more than two.

Although English may be the most widely spoken second language in Europe, as we stated earlier the EU actually has 24 official languages. Among those, the three most commonly spoken and considered to be “procedural” – i.e., those languages in which the EU conducts business – are English, French and German. The remaining languages spoken in Europe are classified as “working languages.” Most corporations have an internal translation department, but others hire third-party professional translators.

The residents of Europe have good reasons to be multilingual, but speaking more than one language can benefit people inside the U.S. as well. Learning another language not only provides advantages for business people who are likely to encounter associates or customers who speak a different language; it also benefits individuals on a personal level since learning another language is a healthy mental exercise that keeps our minds active. But perhaps the greatest benefit of learning another language is how it creates empathy with people from different cultures, and gives us a deeper understanding of the diversity of the world in which we live. Globalization, after all, does not simply impact trade and commerce; in fact, we are all more closely connected thanks to technology. And we cannot think of a more rewarding and appropriate way to celebrate that connectivity than by learning another language.

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