Way back in our college days, one of our profs posed a series of questions:
What adjective do you use to describe a person who speaks three languages?
Several voices replied, correctly, Trilingual?
What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
More voices responded, Bilingual.
And then the kicker:
What do you call a person who speaks just one language?
Before we could respond, he provided the answer:
Elsewhere, things are different:
In 2014, more than 18 million primary school pupils (or 84% of all the pupils at this level) in the European Union (EU) were studying at least one foreign language, including nearly 1 million (around 5%) studying two foreign languages or more. At primary level, English was by far the most popular language, studied by over 17 million pupils.
The dominance of English is confirmed at the lower secondary level (pupils aged around 11-15 depending on the national educational system) with over 17 million pupils in the EU learning English as a foreign language (97% of all the pupils at this level) in 2014. French (5 million or 34% of the relevant population) came second, followed by German (3 million or 23%), Spanish (2 million or 13%), Russian (0.5 million or 3%) and Italian (0.2 million or 1%).
On the occasion of the European Day of Languages, celebrated each year on 26 September, Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, publishes data on language learning at school. Currently there are 24 official languages recognised within the EU. In addition there are regional languages, minority languages, and languages spoken by migrant populations. It should also be noted that several EU Member States have more than one official language.
While the United Kingdom isn’t listed in the Eurostat figures, thanks to the U.K.’s notorious Brexit, learning a second language is now compulsory in primary schools in Old Blighty.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., to quote from a 10 May 2015 report in the Atlantic, Less than 1 percent of American adults today are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in a U.S. classroom.