English teenagers are ‘among worst in Europe’ at foreign languages

England’s teenagers are among the worst in Europe at foreign languages, according to new research.

It reveals youngsters are lagging far behind their European peers, with many unable to understand more than basic words or phrases.

The study, compared the foreign language skills of secondary school pupils to 14 different countries. Belgium tested its French, Flemish and German communities separately, bringing the total number of areas assessed to 16.

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The findings show that in the first foreign language taught, which for England was French, English pupils were among the worst performers overall.

France, where students’ English skills were tested, also performed badly. The highest performers overall, based on reading, listening and writing skills, were Sweden, Malta and the Netherlands.

Nine in 10 pupils in England were considered “basic users” in their French reading, meaning at best, they could only understand simple texts. Some were only able to understand short passages a single phrase at a time, and others were not even at this level.

In listening, 93 per cent of English pupils studying French were “basic users” – this means that they could understand simple phrases and expressions relating to areas such as personal information, shopping and geography.

But just eight per cent were “independent users”, able to “under-stand the main points of clear standard speech”. In the writing test, just 11 per cent of English pupils studying French were considered “independent users”, able to write straightforward texts on a range of familiar subjects.

In comparison, across all countries, two-fifths of students were at this level in writing in their first foreign language.