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Languages must be as important as maths and science, British Council says

Languages should be given the same prominence in the curriculum as science and maths, a report said today, after revealing three quarters of the UK’s adults cannot speak any of the languages key to Britain’s future.

The Languages for the Future report from the British Council reveals a YouGov poll of 4,000 adults revealed only 25 per cent could speak any of the top ten languages key to the country’s future, which included in order of importance: Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Japanese.

The report calculated the relative importance of different tongues by looking at factors such as trade, culture, diplomacy and security and prevalence on the internet.

The poll found that French was the most widely spoken of the chosen foreign languages, with 15 per cent of UK adults speaking it. Six per cent speak German, 4 per cent Spanish and 2 per cent speak Italian. Only one per cent or fewer could speak any of the other languages in the top ten.

The report calls on the government to introduce a wider range of languages into the education system and give them the same prominence as science subjects.

Businesses, too, should invest in more language training for staff, it said.

John Worne, director of strategy at the British Council, said: “If we don’t act to tackle this shortfall, we’ll lose out both economically and culturally.

"Schools have their job to do, but it’s also a problem of complacency, confidence and culture – which policymakers, businesses, parents and everyone else in the UK can help to fix."

And he added: "Languages aren’t just an academic issue – they are a practical route to opportunity for the UK in business, culture and all our lives.”


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