The News at Ten anchor, who chairs the Better English Campaign, will lead the Nuffield Foundation inquiry to be launched on Monday. It will investigate whether our ability to speak other languages is enough for an increasingly global culture.
The inquiry will look at our language capabilities in a commercial, political, social and cultural context. Evidence will be invited from business, the public and language professionals.
The foundation said more people than ever were learning languages but there appeared to be no clear vision or strategy about the nation's needs. Even the most able were poorly equipped to operate in languages other than English. "Are we prepared to continue to rely on others learning our language, even though this often leaves us in a position of disadvantage in our personal, social and business contacts? Do we too readily ignore the fact that speakers of other languages are not learning English for our benefit?" the foundation asks.
The British have traditionally had a reputation as reluctant foreign language speakers. The consolidation of English as the first global language of commerce has added to that complacency, although the British Council has warned that Americans are driving its spread, particularly in the Far East - a development that could disadvantage Britain.
Mr McDonald's co-chair on the Nuffield inquiry will be Sir John Boyd, master of Churchill College, Cambridge, and former ambassador to Japan. An interim report will be published later this year with a final report due in 1999.