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Second Spoken Languages Of Contemporary Europe

Map showing the second most spoken languages in Europe by nation state, revealing historic regions of invasion, colonisation and modern immigration, 2014
Map showing the second most spoken languages in Europe by nation state, revealing historic regions of invasion, colonisation and modern immigration, 2014 (Íomhá: Adapted from MoveHub original linked below)

Interesting charts from the folk at (the anglocentric) Move Hub:

“This map shows the second most common first language in (nearly) every country in the world. These are people who speak it as a first language, we decided this was a more revealing metric as it illuminates the ancient furrows of conquest, colonisation and recent immigration trends (see Polish in the UK).

English takes the crown as the most common second language around the world with 55 countries speaking it as a second language. France and Russia are second and third with 14 and 13 respectively.”

The individual maps of course apply to nation-states only and some of the conclusions are open to interpretation. The second most spoken language in Wales is Welsh, and taking “England & Wales” as one legal territory that is still the case. The definition of “spoken” is a debatable one, especially in the case of countries in Scandinavia where English fluency is common, though that is hardly an indicator of it being a “second most common first language”. The number of people stating an ability to speak Irish in the 2011 Census of Ireland was as follows:

187,827 people spoke Irish on a daily and weekly basis.

613,236 people spoke Irish less than weekly.

976,374 people spoke Irish but not on a regular basis.

1,777,437 people in total stated an ability to speak Irish or over 41% of the population.

119,526 people stated an ability speak Polish (that number has fallen since it was recorded in 2011).

26 comments on “Second Spoken Languages Of Contemporary Europe

  1. Haligonian

    This map seems to underestimate English speakers. e.g surely Germany has more English speakers (from my experiences, the clear majority of the population) than Turks in the population? Same goes for Russia / Tatar.

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    • The Move Hub site is very Anglo-American in terms of world-view so the Turkish claim for Germany is a bit surprising, especially given the claims made by the article for the prevalence of English in other nations. As I said a knowledge or fluency in English is not the same thing as a “second most common first language”. I thought the article interesting but not that convincing.

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  2. What does ‘weekly speaker’ even mean?

    Either you’re fluent or you’re not.

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    • As others have stated the secondary questions in the census related to language use: daily, weekly, etc. As these things go I think the questions were very poorly put together. Far more accurate measures could be devised in the census questionnaire. Off the top of my head:

      The Irish language:

      1) Are you fluent in Irish? Yes/No

      If “Yes”:

      1a) Do you speak Irish as a birth (first) language? Yes/No
      1b) Do you speak Irish as a learned (second) language? Yes/No

      2) Are you partially fluent in Irish? Yes/No
      3) Are you capable of understanding some words and phrases in Irish? Yes/No
      4) Have you no knowledge of the Irish language at all? Yes/No

      Something like the above.

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      • Yes – those questions make a lot more sense.
        They should also ask something like this:

        What language(s) are you (mainly) using in the family?

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      • And btw – what are your answers to those questions?

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        • The ones I suggested? I speak partial Irish, second learned language. Probably read it better, actually, these days.

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          • Heh, and I thought that you were a native Irish speaker.

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            • My mother was/is a native-speaker, my father had no fluency or interest, I was raised with English as a first language and typical “pidgin” Irish as a second language (a mixture of my mother and school), my father discouraged the Irish as did his family (it won’t get you a job, makes education harder, was the typical refrain), where I grew up (typical Dublin suburbia) there were no Irish-speakers and the language was all but invisible, it was regarded as an unimportant subject in the school I attended and largely ignored except during exam times (I actually remember kids who were “good” at Irish being verbally and physically bullied by fellow pupils). It was much later that I came to appreciate its importance though by then the damage had been done in terms of my ability to speak, read, write, etc. Struggling ever since. I am a typical product of the “lip-service” that is paid to Irish by the state.

              To illustrate the situation in Ireland (that still pertains): my youngest sister is determined that her future children will go to an Irish medium school (gaelscoil) and her partner agrees. My mother, despite the fact that she grew up with Irish (and still counts/does maths in Irish!), is actively discouraging it because she genuinely believes that going to an Irish-speaking school will make her grandchildren:

              1) less fluent in English,
              2) bad at maths, geography, history, etc. effecting their exam results,
              3) subject to bullying or social ostracization,
              4) discriminated against in employment,

              And so on and so forth. Her views would be typical of her generation of Irish people.

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              • 1) less fluent in English,
                ————
                Countless immigrants (me included) are living proofs that this is wrong.
                ————
                3) subject to bullying or social ostracization
                ————
                It’s unlikely that other pupils would bully them at gaelscoil.
                I haven’t experienced any bullying at work and I’m a foreigner.

                4) discriminated against in employment,
                ————
                How? Unless you act like that guy in “No Bearla” of course. And even then I saw that most people tried their best to assist him.

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              • Yes but my mother just barely comes of that older generation of Irish people where such views were almost universally held. It is a post-colonial inferiority thing that even someone who was raised in the language finds hard to escape. That is what I have been trying to illustrate on ASF since I started blogging in May 2011. Our view of our indigenous language and culture is warped by centuries of colonial occupation and the modern Irish state reflects that. Even someone like my mother who is otherwise a firm Republican is still tainted by a Zeitgeist shaped by invasion, occupation and ethnocide. I myself, with my poor grasp of Irish, is a product of that process. It is only by tackling the fundamentals, by changing the process, that any progress can be made in righting a great historical wrong. One as great as the intermittent oppressions of Latvia and Latvianess during the 20th century.

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              • Russian language is present in Latvia mainly because the Russians are physically present there.
                They are the the ones who use it – no one else needs or wants to.

                Very few Latvians consider it to be their mother tongue. (No more than ~3% – mixed families, Latvians who repatriated from Russia and so on)

                Russian has been propped up artificially all this time.
                Latvians do not want to accept it as their mother tongue. We treat it as a foreign language.
                Some of us even outright hate it.

                Situation in Ireland is different.

                English is present here because it’s a native language for most of the indigenous population.
                And looks like that they are absolutely fine with that and don’t want any changes to the status quo.

                So I don’t think that Irish will be the most widespread native language in Ireland ever again unless the Irish radically change their mindset.

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              • “So I don’t think that Irish will be the most widespread native language in Ireland ever again unless the Irish radically change their mindset.”

                Exactly my point! We need to win hearts and minds if that is to happen. Plus a mix of carrot and stick 😉

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              • Jānis, the situation that Séamas describes is found, with local variations, in all the Celtic countries, and probably in other colonial situations, e.g. many indigenous language communities in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia … If you’ve avoided it somehow in Latvia then you’re very fortunate indeed. What happened to the Livs though?

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              • Livonians?
                They assimilated and became Latvians or Estonians.
                ————-
                If you’ve avoided it somehow in Latvia then you’re very fortunate indeed.
                ————-
                There are some Latvians who are longing for “the good old Soviet times”.

                But that view is not very popular.

                Russians also mostly dislike the Soviet times or want only “the good parts” back.

                In Latvia occupation also came with a completely ass backwards economic system with forced collectivisation, forced nationalisations and so on – that was not pretty – many people were arrested, deported and/or killed.

                Soviets took everything from my grandparents and deported them to Siberia. They returned to Latvia only after Stalin’s death and were treated like third-class citizens until the restoration of independence because of that.

                So much for the glorious worker’s paradise which was also supported by useful idiots in the West.

                Ireland under the British was not even close to that.
                That’s why I think that armed revolution against them was not really necessary.
                Look how Australia, Canada and New Zealand got their independence without bloodshed.

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              • Jānis : The reason I mentioned the Livonians is apparently they’re currently in the sad position of arguing over who is/was their last native speaker. I.e. they’re having to deal with the fact that intergenerational transmission of their language has completely broken down, probably one or two generations ago.

                Thanks for the information regarding Latvian under Soviet rule. What puzzles me, in comparison with Ireland, is why Latvian wasn’t already weakened by the 19th century or earlier, since the country had long been colonised, much like Ireland. They had the Normans, you the Teutonic Knights, and then centuries with foreign landlords and rulers. How come you’re not all speaking German (or whatever)? Was Latvian always the common speech of Rīga, there must have been German and Scandinavian merchants settled there for the Baltic trade. Who exactly was it who took ‘the keys to the gate’ ?

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              • my father had no fluency or interest
                —————-
                But he still kept his Irish surname and agreed to give you an Irish name?

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  3. You are confusing two different things, “the second most common first language” and “the second most spoken language”. There are probably many more English-speakers than Turkish-speakers in Germany, but most speak it as a second or third language, whereas there are more people who speak Turkish as a first language. Most of the people who speak Turkish as a first language probably speak German as a second language. Equally, in the case of Ireland, it’s likely that most of the people with an ability to speak Polish speak it as a first language, whereas the number of people who speak Irish as a first language, even if they speak it on a daily and weekly basis, is probably smaller.

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    • To be honest, Jimmy, I’m fairly sceptical about some of the claims in the MoveHub piece. Taking your criteria the “second most common first language” in Sweden is surely Finnish/Meänkieli not English unless we are to presume that the number of English-first speakers now resident in Sweden outnumbers Finnish-first speakers. Likewise more people speak the Frisian dialects in the Netherlands as a first language than Dutch speak English as a first language (or English-first speakers are resident there).

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      • Worldhub’s criterion in the first paragraph is

        “This map shows the second most common first language in (nearly) every country in the world.”
        They’ve changed their minds by the second paragraph:
        “English takes the crown as the most common second language around the world with 55 countries speaking it as a second language.”

        and their list has frankly impossible and contradictory figures. My own guess is that they use “most common first language” and “official language” indiscriminately and that they confuse “most common first language”, “most common second language” and “second most common first language” in other places and that sometimes they’ve put down typos without checking them.
        It’s a pity because it would be useful and interesting if it were done properly, but I don’t think we can draw any useful conclusions from their figures,

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  4. Colmán Ó Beirn

    “Weekly Speaker” refers to a question on the census. I think that the aim was to measure Irish usage as well and fluency. Most people with honours Irish in Leaving Certificate or A-Level Irish are proficient in speaking Irish however don’t often get a chance to speak the language on leaving school. Its a minority language thing you wouldn’t understand 🙂

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    • ” I think that the aim was to measure Irish usage as well and fluency.”

      The Move Hub survey doesn’t examine usage or fluency in languages, but first languages- what you might call the language people think in- so it is looking at a very different topic and isn’t comparable.

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      • Move hub isn’t very reliable, though. for example, it says that 23% of the inhabitants of the U.K. speak Polish as a first language and that Turkish is the second most common first language in Austria and 58% speak it as a first language. The first claim is improbable, the second impossible.

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  5. Agree with most of the comments above. It’s a complete confusion of several very different things. Taught languages : English in scandinavia, Irish in Ireland … ; Immigrant languages : Polish in UK, Turkish in Germany … ; Local minority/regional languages : Swedish in Finland, Catalan in Spain …
    Not including various mixtures of all these (is Welsh an immigrant language in London?) and probably some categories I haven’t thought of.

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  6. @Marconatrix
    ———————-
    What puzzles me, in comparison with Ireland, is why Latvian wasn’t already weakened by the 19th century or earlier, since the country had long been colonised, much like Ireland
    ———————-
    I sometimes wonder about this myself.

    There are many reasons.

    1. We weren’t colonised by just one foreign power. There were many – Germans, Russians, Polish, Swedish and so on. There was no single foreign dominant culture or religion.

    2. Also there were people like Gotthard Friedrich Stender and other Baltic Germans who treated Latvian like a real language.
    They translated the Bible to Latvian. Published dictionaries, encyclopaedias and so on.

    There were of course some Latvians who tried to act like Germans, speak German and so on.
    But they were a minority and subject of ridicule – people called them “kārklu vācieši” (Shrub Germans).

    Also the 19th century was a period of so called “1st National awakening” – Latvians started to see themselves as a nation and develop our language, culture and so on.
    Some of so-called “Young Latvians” (Krišjānis Barons, for example) went to great lengths to do it.

    Rīga was founded by Germans and has always been a multicultural city. Ethnic Latvians have never made up more than ~60% of Rīga’s population (and that was achieved only for a brief period in 1930s). The proportion is at ~42% now.

    Therefore it comes as no surprise that our current mayor is an ethnic Russian and a total Putin’s ass licker.

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