Attitudes to language in Europe

BBC News Online reflects on the attitudes across several European Union countries to languages and the learning of other tongues. Tamsin Smith, Rome, Italy

Italians place a very high importance on learning languages, particularly English. Fifteen years ago it was quite difficult to find an English speaker here but today it is relatively easy.

Italian politicians all realise the importance of speaking English and most have English lessons.

Because of the difficulties of finding employment in Italy, a lot of people learn English to help them find employment abroad.

The children learn English and Spanish in schools, although the Spanish and Italian languages are similar so most people find that easier to pick up.

The strong influence of American and English culture helps young people to learn the English language and they often become familiar with it through the latest Harry Potter book or Disney cartoon.

English schools, where Italian children are taught all their lessons in English are also becoming popular amongst the wealthier Italians.

Lucien Libert, Paris, France

Languages are very important in France. The English language is essential to get a good career and the more languages you can learn, the better.

English is the first language you learn in school and you start very young. Most people have at least eight years of learning English at school so even outside of the capital people's knowledge of English tends to be good.

Learning German or Spanish comes next and Latin is also taught in most schools. Some even teach ancient Greek but that is more unusual.

But whilst French people are very keen to learn languages, there is also a movement to protect the French language and to "Francise" new English or American words. For example, the word cd-rom was quickly converted and absorbed into the French language as "cederom".

Other moves that have helped to protect the French language and culture include the law brought into effect by minister Jacques Toubon that requires radio stations must play French music 40% of the time and that foreign film titles must be translated into French.

James Helm, Dublin, Ireland

The English language predominates in Ireland, but the ancient Irish language is an enduring source of pride and interest, and it remains a living tongue that is used in several areas.

Schools are required to teach Irish, and most students learn it as part of the curriculum. There is a continuing debate about how best to protect and promote the language for future generations.

Dr David Barnwell, head of modern languages at Dublin's Linguistics Institute, says there are encouraging trends in the numbers of people signing up for foreign language courses in Ireland. Spanish is increasingly popular, he says, with many people wanting to learn it for leisure and business reasons.

In recent years some primary schools have introduced foreign language classes for younger pupils, and the Irish government has tried to encourage schools to diversify in the languages they offer, extending the choice from the four favourites, French, Spanish, German and Italian.

Meanwhile, Dublin remains a very popular choice of destination for European language students wanting to learn English.