U.S. travelers to European cities are relieved to know they can put away their foreign-language phrasebook or app. Many Europeans speak fluent English, in addition to their native tongues, and often another language as well. The majority learn these at their respective educational systems, which almost always require students to study their first foreign language between the ages of 6 and 9.
In 2010, 73 percent of European children in primary school and 90 percent of secondary students were learning English. Additionally, more than 20 European countries required students to pick up a second additional language later on [source: Devlin].
By contrast, foreign language requirements vary in the U.S. by school system, with nothing set in stone by federal law. Typically, students aren't even exposed to another language until around age 13 or 14, which makes fluency hard to come by. Just 25 percent of American adults speak a foreign language, and of those that do, the vast majority (89 percent) learned it at home rather than at school [source: Devlin].