In connection with the European Day of Languages, The Local reported on Thursday that the number of Danes learning French and German in school dropped markedly between 2005 and 2012.
While those secondary languages saw significant drop-offs, the most surprising figure in Eurostat’s overview of Europeans’ language usage was that, in stark contrast to their neighbours, Danes do not learn Spanish.
When measured by native speakers, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world. Over 405 million people speak Spanish as their first language and Spanish is spoken in 30 different countries.
While 42.3 percent of Swedes and 30 percent of Norwegians at the lower secondary level studied Spanish as a second language in 2012, Eurostat puts the Danish number at null in both 2005 and 2012.
See also: Fewer Danes learning German and French
The Local spoke with the Ministry of Education and a Copenhagen-based Spanish instructor to ask: por que?
María Arlandis is from Valencia, Spain and has been offering private Spanish lessons in Copenhagen for two years.
She told The Local that she has heard many complaints from Danes who wish there would be better options for learning Spanish in school.
“I have many Danish students who love learning Spanish and are passionate about it, but most of the Danes I teach Spanish to complain that the teaching system at the high school level is not very good and the teachers use too much Danish in the classroom,” Arlandis said.
Arlandis, who provides Spanish classes both in the Copenhagen area and online, said it is a mistake to not offer Spanish at the lower secondary level.
“I think Danish society and the Danish school system puts too much focus on English, but I also think that is normal. However, Denmark should start paying more attention to Spanish, since the experts says it will be the world’s second-most widely spoken language after Chinese,” she said.
Although Danish schools only officially offer German and French in addition to English, a Ministry of Education spokesperson told The Local that it is possible for students to select a third foreign language, including Spanish, as an elective beginning in the seventh grade. The official did not, however, answer The Local’s question about how many Danish schools actually offer Spanish.
But the ministry felt confident that the school reform that kicked in this year would improve Danes’ foreign language skills.
With the reform, German or French classes now begin in fifth grade and are compulsory through the sixth grade, after which students can opt to continue in one of those two languages or another language as available.
The ministry spokesperson also stressed that the selection of German and French made sense “based on historical conditions”.
“Germany is Denmark’s largest trading partner and our neighbour and Denmark doesn’t have the same close relationship to Spain as compared to Germany and France,” the official said.
The European Day of Language has been celebrated every year on September 26th since 2001. There are 24 official languages recognised within the EU.
The below infographic from RedLine Language Service breaks down the world's most widely spoken languages, based on the number of first-language speakers.