Primary pupils should learn Mandarin and Arabic to help UK businesses, according to Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary in England.
He said UK plc increasingly needed children to learn the languages of countries where Britain had "very important contacts".
And all secondary schools should offer lessons in Mandarin, he said, citing a poll in which employers rated the language the most useful for their employees to speak - after French and German.
In the Confederation of British Industry's poll of 581 businesses, conducted last year, 38 per cent of bosses said they were looking for staff with Mandarin or Cantonese. Just over half - 52 per cent - wanted French speakers, while 43 per cent and 28 per cent wanted German and Spanish respectively. Mandarin would become as popular a language as French, German or Spanish, predicted Mr Balls.
A report by the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that from next year, all primary schools in England must offer pupils aged seven and older lessons in a foreign language. They can choose from a wide range of languages, from Arabic to Mandarin and Japanese to French. All secondary pupils should have the opportunity to learn languages like Mandarin if they chose, said the report.