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A foreign language is a language not spoken by the indigenous people of a certain place: for example, English is a foreign language in Japan. It is also a language not spoken in the native country of the person referred to, i.e. an English speaker living in Japan can say that Japanese is a foreign language to him or her.
Some children learn more than one language from birth or from a very young age: they are bilingual. These children can be said to have two mother tongues: neither language is foreign to that child, even if one language is a foreign language for the vast majority of people in the child's birth country. For example, a child learning English from her English mother in Japan can speak both English and Japanese, but neither is a foreign language to her.
Foreign language education and ability
- See main article: Language education
Most schools around the world teach at least one foreign language. By 1998 nearly all pupils in Europe studied at least one foreign language as part of their compulsory education, the only exception being Ireland, where primary and secondary schoolchildren learn both Irish and English, but neither is considered a foreign language. On average in Europe, at the start of foreign language teaching, learners have lessons for three to four hours a week. Compulsory lessons in a foreign language normally start at the end of primary school or the start of secondary school. In Luxembourg, Norway and Malta, however, the first foreign language is learnt at age six, and in Belgium's Flemish Community at age 10.
In some countries, learners have lessons taken entirely in a foreign language: for example, more than half of European countries with a minority/regional language community use partial immersion to teach both the minority and the state language.
In 1995 the European Commissionís White Paper on Education and Training emphasized the importance of schoolchildren learning at least two foreign languages before upper secondary education. The Lisbon Summit of 2000 defined languages as one of the five key skills.
Despite the high rate of foreign language teaching in schools, the number of adults claiming to speak a foreign language is generally lower than might be expected. This is particularly true of native English speakers: in 2004 a British survey showed that only one in 10 UK workers could speak a foreign language. Less than 5% could count to 20 in a second language, for example. 80% said they could work abroad anyway, because "everyone speaks English". In 2001, a European Commission survey found that 65.9% of people in the UK spoke only their native tongue.
Since the 1990s, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has tried to standardize the learning of languages across Europe.
Research into foreign language learning
In 2004 a report by the Michel Thomas Language Centre in Britain suggested that speaking a second language could increase an average worker's salary by £3,000 a year, or £145,000 in a lifetime. Further results showed that nine out of 10 British companies thought their businesses could benefit from better language skills.
Also in 2004, a study by University College London (UCL) examined the brains of 105 people who could speak more than one language. The study found that people who learned a second language when younger had denser grey matter than those who learned one later. Grey matter is the part of the brain where information is processed. This shows that foreign language learning is easier for younger people than for adults.
- Teaching English as a Foreign Language
- English as an additional language
- Language education
- Language school
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