Tony Gurr

What do Turkish citizens say about language learning?

In ELT and ELL on 17/02/2011 at 7:17 am

The benefits of knowing more than one language have long been recognised across Europe, even despite the worries about political and economic integration in member states of the EU. The EU developed its “mother-tongue-plus-two strategy” in 2002 – and the European “project” to foster large-scale plurilingualism went mainstream.

The EU does recognise that English has emerged as the most widely spoken language in Europe, but wants to make sure this does not become, over time, a factor limiting linguistic diversity within its frontiers.

The success of this EU initiative is highlighted in the regular Eurobarometer surveys. One of these surveys asks EU citizens (and “candidate countries” such as Turkey) about their beliefs and attitudes towards foreign languages.

In the last of these (in 2006):

  • The vast majority of Europeans (83%) believe that knowing foreign languages is or could be useful for them personally. In fact, over half (53%) of the respondents perceive language skills to be very useful.
  • 9 out of 29 countries covered in the survey indicated that over half of EU Citizens can hold a conversation at least in two foreign languages.
  • 56% of EU citizens are able to hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue and 28% state that they master two languages along with their native language.
  • 73% of EU citizens indicate better job opportunities as the main reason for the young to gain knowledge of other languages other than their mother tongue.
  • Practically no one (0.4%) considers that it is not important for young people to acquire language skills.

And, with regards English:

  • English is perceived by Europeans to be by far the most useful language to know (68%). French (25%) and German (22%) follow next (Spanish ranks fourth with 16%).
  • English remains the most widely-spoken foreign language throughout Europe. 38% of EU citizens state that they have sufficient skills in English to have a conversation.
  • 77% of Europeans consider English to be the language that children should learn.

Of course, such survey data can hide considerable variation between countries:

  • 92% of citizens in Luxembourg  report that they can speak at least two languages apart from their native tongue
  • 75% of respondents in the Netherlands report the same
  • 44% of Europeans admit to not knowing any other language than their mother tongue.
  • 67% of Turkish citizens report that they cannot speak another language than Turkish.

The results of the 2010 language Eurobarometer survey should be available very soon – so I thought it might be useful to take a closer look at what Turkish citizens said in the last survey.

What do Turkish citizens say?

From the Eurobarometer survey of 2006:

  • 79% of Turkish citizens agreed with the statement that everyone in the EU should be able to speak one language in addition to their mother tongue
  • 63% agreed with the statement that everyone in the EU should be able to speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue
  • 33% are able to hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue (this was the lowest of all participating countries)
  • 5% are able to speak at least 2 languages
  • only 1% are able to speak at least 3 languages
  • 95% believe that knowing foreign languages is or could be useful for them personally
  • 72% consider English to be the language that children should learn
  • When asked about the best age to start learning a first language apart from the mother tongue, 71% said ages 6 to 12
  • 9% report that they have improved their language skills at primary school

  • 49% agreed with the statement language teaching should be a political priority

The “count” on whether language should be a political priority is not as strong as the result in the last referendum (!) – but it tells us a lot.

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