Our English is not so great, say Italians, Germans, French

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Italians, Germans and the French are the most insecure in Europe about their levels of English, with Swedes among the most confident, data showed on Thursday.

In celebration of European Language Day, the Eurostat statistics agency said 66 per cent of working age adults claim to know at least one foreign language, with English overwhelmingly the most popular, except in the Baltic states, Luxembourg and Slovakia.

But asked if their level of English was "proficient", "good", or just "fair", 64 per cent of Italians said only fair, followed by 50 per cent in Germany and 49 per cent in France. In Malta, Britain's one-time Mediterranean outpost, 53 per cent of respondents judged themselves proficient in English, followed by Sweden at 43 per cent and Denmark at 36 per cent.

The data showed a whopping 94 per cent of upper secondary school students in the European Union choosing English as their second language, with French a distant second at 23 per cent and German at 21 per cent.

The crushing preponderance of English as the foreign tongue of choice is a sore subject for many European countries, especially the French, who long for a continent where the language of Shakespeare is not the lingua franca.