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Half of British pupils shun foreign languages

Brussels — One in two British pupils in their final years at secondary school are not learning a foreign language with one in five in Ireland also shunning overseas tongues, according to EU data released Thursday.

The data, published by the Eurostat statistics agency ahead of the European Day of Languages on Saturday, put Britain and Ireland far ahead of the EU average of 6.4 percent of upper secondary students who do not learn another language.

The figures were 51.4 percent in Britain, and 18.8 percent in Ireland.

All such students in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden are learning a second tongue, with English the most studied language.

French is the most common second language studied in Britain and Ireland.

An average of 36.2 percent of adults aged 25 to 64 in the 27-nation EU claimed to speak no foreign language at all, led by Hungary with almost three in four people (74.8 percent), and one in two in Portugal (51.3 percent).

By contrast, an average of 28.1 percent said they can speak two or more foreign languages, led by Slovenia (71.8 percent), Slovakia and Finland. Apart from English, the best known foreign language overall is Russian.

In an effort to track down interpreters working in French and fill a hole expected over the next decade as current staff retire, the European Union launched Wednesday an Internet campaign on the Youtube video site.

The number of interpreters working in English, German, Italian, Dutch and Swedish is also expected to drop significantly due to retirement.

The EU has 23 official languages. More than 700 interpreters work on around 50 daily meetings at the European Commission and other institutions. That number is virtually double if the European parliament is taken into account.