Over 70% of Romanians believe that every European should know at least one foreign language and 60% believe that English is the best option for the future. According to a Eurobarometer survey on attitudes towards foreign languages and multilingualism, nearly half of Romanians say they can have a conversation in a foreign language, English being the most used. The backlash, however, is that only 20% of Romanians use a foreign language during holidays, compared to the European average, i.e. of 50%.
Romanians mostly make use of a foreign language only to watch movies or TV programs and listen to radio. 68% of Romanians, compared to only 44% of Europeans, still prefer subtitled films. While English is the foreign language that most Romanians speak – 31%, followed by French – 17% and German and Spanish – 3%, unfortunately, the results in this area are below the European average. Even if this happens, those involved in education in our country believe that reality is different. Let’s see how.
In recent years, Romanians have made good progress in language learning, especially young people, although teachers acknowledge that the Romanian education system should make some changes. Notwithstanding the statistics and polls, it is obvious that language learning has become important for many Romanians in recent years. Even if in school, the sessions for studying foreign languages are limited, situation occurring all over the European Union, the age at which children begin to study a foreign language has dropped to four or even three, as compared to the communist era, when children usually started to learn foreign languages at the age of 8. In addition, during the communist era, English was not at all the first language of choice in schools, while French, German, Russian were the most common languages taught at school. However, after the communist fall, Russian was taken out, Spanish and Italian were introduced in schools and English became the most-studied language.
Another advantage for us, Romanians, is, nowadays, that we are among top 5 countries in the world with the fastest Internet access (and we are ranked first in Europe) and this enables us to have faster access to English-spoken apps and operating systems and there is little to no enforcement with regards to intellectual property piracy, so Romanians enjoy a lot more content than other Europeans, for free.
In addition, foreign movies, TV series (including documentaries) and not dubbed in Romanian and they never were. Only recently, some cartoon movies or series for little kids (who do not know how to read yet) began to be dubbed in Romanian. This happens because Romania has opted for subtitling (which is less expensive) since communist times; thus, we were used to hear foreign languages in movie theatres or on TV. This contributed significantly to our understanding and learning of foreign languages.
Moreover, we probably spend less effort for learning French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, because Romanian is also a Latin-based, Romance language, and there are abundant similarities both in terms of grammar and vocabulary. The fact that we still study Latin in secondary school and high school is also an important factor. English also has a vast amount of Latin-based terms, and if they are not directly from Latin, they may have their origin in French. Most of the movies, series and tv shows we watch are in English, most of the music we listen to is in English or has English lyrics, and it is more or less common-place to read some sort of popular books in the “language they were written” (such as „Harry Potter” or „Game of Thrones”).
Romanians were also exposed to German (because, at some point in the Romanian history, Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), as well as to Hungarian and Turkish. During communist times, we even had TV broadcasts in German and Hungarian (we have over 1 million Hungarian speaking inhabitants in the country and a much lower number of German speaking inhabitants).
So, even if compared with other European countries we are not among those who often use foreign languages abroad, it is clear Romanians have taken a step forward and that our history that enabled us to quickly learn foreign languages increased our interest in them.
There are now kindergartens teaching exclusively in foreign languages, most in demand being English, then German or, recently, even Spanish. Moreover, in secondary school, students now study one or two foreign languages and the number of hours increased. However, there is still room for changes: for example, in order to be more productive, foreign language classes should be taught to smaller groups of students and not the entire class. Of course, this already is a practice in some Romanian schools, but it is advisable to be adopted by every school, with the purpose of increasing a positive result regarding foreign language learning. Often, the study of a foreign language is coupled with private lessons or attending courses organised by paid various companies. Students now study in school at least one language to an advanced level and a second one at a more basic level. There are cases with more than two foreign languages available to study and students can choose from several. Many schools also offer bilingual courses. The first language of preference is English (approx. 82.7% of primary school students in Romania were studying English in 2015, making it the most studied foreign language in the country, according to data from Eurostat), the second most popular language being French (with 15.2% of students studying it) and the third one is German. Italian and Spanish are the next most studied languages. There is a wide variety of options available and many kids choose a specialised public school or high school because they want to study a specific language and they wish to continue studying it throughout the curriculum. In the areas highly populated with minority groups, languages like Hungarian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Slovak, Czech or Croatian are also taught, but they do not necessarily classify as foreign languages in these circumstances, as they are available as a result of the society’s structure. Nevertheless, it seems that all these changes in society lead to changes in the learning process. If you were to ask a young Romanian something in English, you would most probably get an answer. This is less likely to happen amongst the older generation of Romanians, as English was not as much of an integral part of their curriculum. And the results of post-Revolution changes already come to fruition: approx. 94% of the people audited by organisations in Romania have good or very good knowledge of foreign languages. Most of them can communicate in English, French, or German. Following a testing conducted by consultants from Eucom (a well-known language course provider) on 4,500 young professionals, the results showed that 69% of the people assessed are independent users of a foreign language, meaning that they can communicate accurately and use various vocabulary terms coherently, on familiar or more challenging topics. Moreover, a quarter of those who were assessed are experienced users, which means that they can easily take part in conferences or business meetings held in foreign languages (most common being English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish).
At EU level, approx. 84.3% of primary school students were studying a foreign language in 2015 with English being the top foreign language for study (over 17.5 million students (83.5%) were studying it). English is followed by French, with 0.8 million students (4.8%), German, with 0.7 million students (3.9%), Spanish, with 0.1 million students (0.6%), Russian, with 54,000 students (0.3%) and Italian, with 33,000 students (0.2%). Eurostat data shows that almost 19 million primary school students in the European Union, or 84% of the students at this school level, were learning a foreign language in 2015. One million of them, or 5%, learnt two languages or more. While less than half of the student population was learning a foreign language in 2015 in Portugal (35.4%), Belgium (36.7%), The Netherlands (42.9%) and Slovenia (49.8%), all the primary school students in Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta and Austria (100%) and almost all in Croatia (99.9%), Spain (99.4%), France (99.2%), Italy (98.6%), Romania (98.3%) and Poland (97.6%) were studying a foreign language in 2015, according to Eurostat data. Romania had almost 775,000 lower secondary school pupils in 2015, and 95.2% of them were studying two or more foreign languages. The most common language among Romanian pupils was English (99.5% of them studying it), followed by French (83.6%). Step by step, things seem to improve for Romanians more and more in this area and sooner than later we will get to reach higher rankings in statistics at the level of EU Member States.