The title may have been given away, but what is common in Ireland, UK and Hungary? The answer is that these three countries have the lowest percentage of people, who do not speak more than one language in Europe. In Hungary this percentage is 65%, in UK is 61%, and in Ireland it is 60%. According to the statistics in the Western World this is very low, compared with Luxemburg (98%), Latvia (95%) or the Netherlands (94%) almost shockingly.
Image: The ratio of at least one extra language speakers apart from their mother tongue in the 25-64 population in percentage
According to statistics from the Guardian: “Just over half of Europeans (54%) are able to hold a conversation in at least one additional language, a quarter (25%) are able to speak at least two additional languages and one in ten (10%) are conversant in at least three.”
The exceptionally low rates in the UK and Ireland are understandable, as most of the people speak a widely used world language, which is historically used in international environment, therefore they are not compelled to learn foreign languages. However, this is not true for Hungary. The very low rate of multi-language speakers can be explained with many components:
Hungary has practically no minorities therefore they did not require to adopt other languages like Switzerland or the Baltics.
Also they did not have an opened and advanced education like in Scandinavia or the Netherlands.
Hungary has a tradition of antagonistic behaviour against foreign people, like the Germans or Russians, speaking a foreign language many times meant to serve foreign powers (aka being traitors to the nation) and this developed a very sophisticated absorption into the Hungarian language but not learning new languages.
The second half of the 20th century Hungary had been oppressed by the Soviet Union, forced the Russian language on the population. This of course repelled most to learn foreign languages as a signal to resist oppression.
Although in the last 30 years Hungary was not forced by foreign powers, interest in foreign languages grow very slowly. Not surprisingly the growth is higher in the younger population and much lower in the elderly. Also it is an interesting fact, that only 25% of those who speak any language other than Hungarian speak the language at an acceptable level (clearly understood and can have a conversation without problems). This reflects that most Hungarians introduced to foreign languages only from age 10 or higher, when most languages gets harder to learn.
“The five most widely spoken foreign languages remain English (38%), French (12%), German (11%), Spanish (7%) and Russian (5%).”
This European trend is slightly different in Hungary, where after English, German has a larger portion (about 17%), and Italian (12%) are the three largest spoken language.
Overall we Hungarians have a lot to study, and learn to keep up with the European norms.