Why are the Brits so bad at foreign languages?

That Dutch Guy says:

We [Dutch are] good at French and German too, why are the British so crap at other languages is a better topic for a video I’d say.

Indeed. We Brits are famous for not speaking foreign languages.

And here’s why:

According to a survey published by the European Commission, this bad reputation is yes, very much justified. The survey found that British people are officially the worst language learners in Europe.

In short, the survey says:

  • 62% of people can’t speak any other language than English.
  • 38% of Brits speak at least one foreign language
  • 18% speak two and
  • Only 6% of the population speak three or more.

Not good.

The main reason the Brit’s are Crap and languages

It’s all about attitude.

As I talked about in my video, “Why are the Dutch so good at English?”, part of their advantage is that speaking English is simply a given. Much of media is in English, meaning they’re exposed to the language from a very early age, then people just DO it without even considering whether they can or not.  On the other hand, in the UK the first time I was exposed to French was at the age of 12, and we learned colours and animal names. Not exactly stimulating content.

Part of the problem, of course, is perceived the importance of the language, combined with the fact that people expect us to be useless in their languages. For better or worse, English is a world language and it’s what people generally use between each other. Naturally then, there are few situations where English speakers HAVE to speak a foreign language.

Answer honestly…

Would you learn English if it wasn’t the defect lingua-franca for business?

Probably not.


For a more in-depth discussion on this while learning tons of common phrases, expressions and chunks see the EES lesson “Stan the Stick in the Mud”.


Julian Northbrook
Language Punk

P.S.  If you’re not yet a member of “Julian Northbrook’s League of Extraordinary English Speakers”, click here.


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Meet the Author

Julian Northbrook

Julian Northbrook is an unconventional punk of the business English learning world. A leading expert in English education and direct response marketing, he’s fully equipped to drag you kicking and screaming from English-mediocracy to speaking at an outstanding level. After being turned down for his dream job in the art industry, Julian suffered three long years as a crap Japanese speaker. He understands exactly what it’s like to feel like a total idiot every time you speak. But Julian overcame his language problems, mastered the language, and went on to work first as a freelance translator, then as an executive member of a Japanese company. But he soon grew sick of the corporate world and left it to pursue something infinitely more satisfying — running his own business helping small business owners and entrepreneurs get so good at English that they forget that it’s not their first language. He writes the infamous Doing English Daily Newsletter which you can (and should) subscribe to.