The report, recently released by the British Council, recommends that Brits drop their “stubbornly monolingual” attitudes and put more effort into learning a foreign language, especially Spanish, in order to better compete internationally after Brexit.
The Languages for the Future report, which aims to “identify the priority languages for the UK’s future prosperity, security and influence in the world,” said that Spanish was the most useful language to learn, followed by Mandarin, French, Arabic and German.
“UK attitudes to language learning mean that the vast majority of young people in the UK do not have the kind of language skills to compete with their European peers,” the report’s authors said in a statement.
The report highlighted that language provisions in many schools and universities are becoming increasingly vulnerable, with department closures a more and more common occurrence.
Another issue is the recruitment of native language teachers, especially after Brexit, when the rights of EU citizens to live and work in the UK could change considerably.
“The UK’s already limited language capability could be further eroded by increased difficulties in recruiting native-speaker linguists from abroad once we leave the EU,” the report states.
It is estimated that just one-third of British adults can hold a basic conversation in a foreign language, with the most common languages being French and German, followed by Spanish.
Bright future for Spanish?
But there is some good news when it comes to language learning in the UK: while traditional subjects like French and German may be in decline, Spanish has been flourishing and is now the second most studied foreign language at both GCSE and A Level, after French.
The report advised that in the future, schools should give equal importance to language learning as to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, and make sure pupils have every opportunity to develop both language skills and knowledge and appreciation of other cultures.