Peter Galloway, head of the city's Trinity Academy, told a seminar on languages and the world of work that schools faced "a serious crisis" in the lack of male role models for boys. All six staff in his modern languages department are women.
Trinity has an award-winning series of educational programmes linked to Europe, involving work placements in a number of countries. But Mr Galloway said businesses had to do much more to underline the importance of modern languages in the workplace. He recently checked 200 job vacancies and only three asked for a modern language.
By contrast IBM in Greenock has been selling the message to local schools, colleges and universities that a combination of a foreign language and IT skills will lead to a job and good prospects.
Charles Morrison, the IBM site director, told the seminar they planned to replace many of the 500 European staff employed in Greenock with local recruits. The company has developed a special certificate in languages and IT that pupils can take in sixth year, before moving on to follow a similar course in college or university. It has since been endorsed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
But Mr Morrison revealed that only 10-20 per cent of the 300 exporting companies in Renfrewshire have their own web-site. Just two are in a foreign language.
Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, strongly backed learning foreign languages to boost both economic competitiveness and personal fulfilment. "Language skills are a positive advantage in every single walk of life," he said.
Mr Galbraith pointed out that 80 per cent of Scottish trade is with markets that do not speak English. He claimed one in eight exporters have lost business because they did not have staff who could speak another language. This infringed basic courtesy and made for bad business.
The seminar in Dunfermline was organised by the national action group on modern languages to inform its final report, expected to go to ministers early in the new year.