What are the most widely spoken EU languages?

Published on 29/08/2022

The European Union comprises a total of 27 countries. It is therefore to be expected that the list of official languages will also be quite extensive. We are talking specifically about 24 different languages, although some of them are rarely spoken. We will now take a closer look at those that have a strong presence in this geopolitical entity. All of the following languages are mastered by the professionals of our translation company.

1. English: low percentage as a mother tongue, but very high as a second language

The most widely spoken language, far ahead of the second place holder, is English. It is therefore not surprising that many of the translation services requested are to be translated from or into the language of Shakespeare. Forty-four percent of the inhabitants of the European Union speak English, which has a great importance today.

While this seems a lot, the actual number of native English speakers is not: Only one in a hundred EU citizens. On the contrary, 43 percent count with English as their second language.

2. German: the most widely spoken native language

Although the Germanic language is ranked below English, as mother tongue beats Shakespeare's language. In contrast to the 1 % of English natives, for German we go up to a 20 %. In other words, two out of ten people living in the European Union are German native speakers.

It is noteworthy that German has a big presence in the EU as a second language. In total it’s around 16 percent. Following the example of English, we also regularly deal with many English projects that EU-companies decide to entrust to a translation company such as ours.

3. 30 percent of EU citizens speak French

French is only one percentage point behind Italian (a language we will discuss later) in terms of native EU citizens. However, there are many people who practise it regularly as a second language. This brings the total percentage up to 30 percent.

It is interesting that both English and French are the languages used as the first drafting languages for official documents. Together with German, these are the three languages that are considered to be work languages in the EU.

4. Italian: within the top 4 of the ranking

Although Italian is narrowly ahead of French as native language, not many people speak Italian as a second language, only 3 percent. If we add those 3 % to the 15 % of Italian natives, this language ranks fourth in the ranking with 18 percent.

Those numbers are not surprising considering that Italy has a population of around 60 million, while the number of EU citizens is a total of 447 million.

5. Spanish is slightly behind Italian, but is still very important for the EU

Spanish is one of the most important languages in the world, as there are approximately 580 million speakers. In the European Union, however, the situation is somewhat different, with a an slightly lower percentage compared to Italy. From the 18 points for Italian, we move down to 17 points for Spanish.

It is striking that almost the same number of people speak Spanish as natives and as a second language, respectively 9 and 8 percent.

The finish line of the top 10 is a number of languages that are practically only present in the European Union as native languages. We are referring to Polish, Romanian, Dutch, Hungarian and Portuguese.

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Virginia Pacheco's picture
Virginia Pacheco

Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.

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