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8 Fun Facts about European Languages


8 Fun Facts about European Languages

Today, September 26, is the European Day of Languages. Qué? On this day we celebrate a European treasure that we often forget about: our linguistic diversity. As the Council of Europe puts it: “Linguistic diversity is the perfect instrument for enlarging intercultural understanding and an important part of cultural heritage.” As we put it: language opens conversations. Let’s try with some fun facts you did not know about!

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Conversation starters for your next European holiday

  • 200 languages is not a lot
    In Europe, we speak over 200 indigenous languages, which only makes up for about 3% of the world’s total. There are 24 official languages. The mother tongues spoken by most people on the European continent are Russian, German, French, English, and Turkish.


  • One big European family
    Most European languages belong to the Indo-European language family. That means we all share some basic historic roots of words, however different they may sound today. No less than 94% of Europeans are native speakers of a Indo-European language.


  • In Italian less is more
    Italians can cook wonders from very few ingredients, and they also need fewer letters in their alphabet. Only 21, to be precise. The J, K, W, X, and Y are never used in Italian writing.


  • Every language has at least 50.000 words
    Of course, nobody is really counting and you do not need to know them all. Take English for example, which has an exceptionally high number of 170,000 words in the largest dictionary. 50,000 of them are hardly ever used anymore. And what’s more: you only need 1,000 words to understand 75% of everyday English.


  • More than half of Europe is bilingual
    54% of Europeans can have a conversation in another language. The best students in the class are the Luxembourgians, Latvians, and the Dutch, of whom almost 95% speak (at least) two languages. Hungarians, Italians, and the British score the lowest.


  • Learn a language and stay sane
    Research has shown that learning a second language may delay the onset of dementia by several years. Time to install the Duolingo app, maybe?


  • Russian was the first language spoken in outer space
    Not by Laika the dog, but by Yuri Gagarin. When the first cosmonaut circled Planet Earth, he spoke his native tongue to mission control. Some people believe he said “I don’t see any God up here”, but the transmission protocols show no such statement. It was just serious info, really.


  • Weird, right?
    Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch sudty , it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltters in a wrod are; the olny iprmoatnt fatcor is taht the frist and lsat ltteres be at the rghit pclae. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

The European Day of Languages

The Council of Europe recommends that the 800 million Europeans, represented in its 46 member states, learn more languages—regardless of their age. Multilingualism is a European strength and we should cherish this diversity.

Since 2001, at the initiative of the Council of Europe, the European Day of Languages has been celebrated every year on September 26.

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