And with austerity eating into European government budgets, the bloc's flagship student exchange program Erasmus, which supports 250,000 students and teachers with grants each year, faces a funding crisis.

"We've had bills for over ⿬100 million already which we can't honor because there's no money in the pot," said Dennis Abbott, a spokesman for the European Commission's education and multi-lingualism directorate.

The shortfall represents less than 0.1 percent of the EU's annual budget, but the failure to break down language barriers could end up being far costlier.

Edoardo Campanella, a former economic adviser to the Italian government, says labor mobility is fundamental to the EU's common market, and in particular the eurozone, where countries with widely differing economic fortunes share a single currency.

"Labor mobility is an important adjustment mechanism," said Campanella, currently a Fulbright Scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School. "The language hurdle impairs this safe-valve."

At Berlin's Cafe Colectivo, 30-year-old project manager Maria Sarricolea from Spain laughed as she recalled friends asking about the job prospects in Germany.

"A lot of Spanish people think they can come here and get a great job with a bit of English," she said.

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Clendenning contributed from Madrid. Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed to this report.

Frank Jordans can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/wirereporter

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