Foreign Language in Education: Europe vs. USA

With nearly 200 countries, close to 7,000 languages and over 7.1 billion people in this world, cross-cultural communication can be extremely challenging. Every day people face language barriers that lead to miscommunications which can yield life-altering outcomes. The United States and Europe have varying emphasis placed on foreign language studies; it is mandatory to study a second foreign language for at least one year in more than 20 European countries, yet the United States has no foreign language requirement at all.

Because Europe is comprised of multiple countries, its foreign language requirements range. Like America, Ireland and Scotland don’t have a foreign language requirement. Some countries only require students to study one foreign language; Spain and Croatia implement this rule at the age of 6, Sweden at the age of 7, Germany at the age of 8, Denmark and Turkey at 9, the Netherlands at 10 and the UK (not in its entirety) at age 11. The rest of the European countries require students to study two foreign languages; Belgium has its students start their first foreign language at age 3!

Though individual school districts in the states have the ability to set their own requisites for obtaining a high school diploma, America as a whole does not have any foreign language obligations for its students. There is likely some connection between this and the fact that only 1% of America’s adult population is proficient in a foreign language, as compared to Europe where monolinguals are the minority. Most American universities implement an extensive list of required courses; on average it takes students about one year to complete all of their general education classes. Students are frequently deterred from taking a class that isn’t required, considering it means more money and time spent during a period when most people don’t have extra money or time. Only 7% of American college students are enrolled in language courses.

There are a laundry list of proven benefits that come from studying a foreign language; this type of education at any age can improve cognitive skills and even delay the onset of brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. The healthier brain functionality of Europeans is evident, with most of its countries holding an above average national IQ.

What do you think of the foreign language requirements, or lack thereof, in these countries? Would you change the structure if you could? If so, how? Share your thoughts below!



Nisar, the dynamic force behind Translation Excellence, stands tall as its founder and CEO. This isn’t just any company—it’s a global heavyweight in boutique language services. Hailing from the vibrant city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nisar brought his passion and expertise to the U.S. shores in 2001. In the realm of languages, he’s a titan. With 19 years under his belt, he’s worn hats from a linguist and instructor to a cultural bridge-builder and curriculum craftsman.

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