'Championing the rights of children'

'Alarming shortage' of foreign language skills in UK

Garry Wed 20 Nov 2013 14:27

The UK has an "alarming shortage" of people able to speak the 10 languages vital to our future prosperity and global standing, warns a report.

Schools should teach a wider range of languages, with language skills given the same status as the sciences and maths, argues the British Council.

More adults should learn at least one new language, say the authors.

Failure to act risks the UK losing out "both economically and culturally", said John Worne of the British Council.

"The problem isn't that we're teaching the wrong languages, because the most widely taught languages like French, Spanish and German all feature in our top 10.

British Council top 10 languages
1. Spanish
2 Arabic
3 French
4 Mandarin Chinese
5 German
6 Portuguese
7 Italian
8 Russian
9 Turkish
10 Japanese

'Crucial importance'
"But the UK needs more people to take up the opportunity to learn and, crucially, get using these languages, along with new ones like Arabic, Chinese and Japanese", said Mr Worne.

The authors analysed a range of economic, political, cultural and educational factors to define the languages which "will be of crucial importance for the UK's prosperity, security and influence in the world over the next 20 years".

A YouGov poll of more than 4,000 UK adults found that three-quarters (75%) were unable to speak any of the 10 languages well enough to hold a conversation.

Some 15% of the UK population said they could hold a conversation in French but only 6% said the same of their German skills, 4% could converse in Spanish and 2% in Italian.

The other languages on the top 10 list were spoken by 1% or fewer of the population, the poll suggests.

The report was endorsed by Martyn Heather, head of education at the Premier League: "Being able to speak another language opens up a world of opportunities to play and coach in football leagues across the globe.

"It is the people who understand languages and feel confident with other cultures who will be able to make the most of these opportunities and thrive the most overseas".

Earlier this year the British Council challenged everyone in the UK to learn at least 1,000 words of a new language.

Read more... (BBC News - 20 November)