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Spanish tops languages to learn in 2018, says British Council

One in five (21%) adults in the UK are planning to learn a language in 2018, with Spanish being the most popular choice amongst potential learners according to a poll commissioned by the British Council.

dictionarySpanish, French, English, Italian and German made up the top five most desirable languages Rosetta Stone's UK learners in 2018. Photo: Wikicommons

"If we are to remain globally competitive post-Brexit, we need more people who can speak languages"

Of the 2,109 respondents questioned by Populus in December 2017, 64% said they had always wanted to speak another language fluently.

Spanish (21%), French (10%), Italian (7%), German (5%) and Japanese (3%) made up the top five most desirable languages for budding linguists to learn this year.

58% agreed it was more important than ever for people in the UK to learn another language

More than half (56%) of respondents said they regret never making the effort to speak another language fluently, while one in three (32%) pledged to put in the effort to learn some key phrases of another language in 2018.

45% of those surveyed said they were “embarrassed” by the level of their foreign language skills.

While 58% agreed it was more important than ever for people in the UK to learn another language, just 16% said they could speak a foreign language to a high standard and 33% stated they could hold a basic conversation in a one.

A quarter (25%) said they will be encouraging their children to learn at least some of another language in 2018, with Mandarin Chinese predicted to become one of the most popular foreign languages learned in UK schools.

2,109 adults were asked: To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? Click to see the responses. Image: British Council/ Populus

Last November, a British Council report identified Spanish, followed by Mandarin, French, Arabic and German, as the most important language for people living in the UK to master as Brexit approaches.

The report called for “a bold new policy” to improve foreign language learning, and suggested that languages be given the same priority as maths and science in schools.

“The New Year is the perfect time to get started”

Commenting on the results, schools adviser at the British Council Vicky Gough said: “It’s fantastic that many of us hope to brush up on our language skills in 2018. In particular, the languages we are most keen to learn are some of the languages the UK needs most.”

However, Gough added that the country is still facing a languages deficit.

“If we are to remain globally competitive post-Brexit, we need more people who can speak languages,” she said.

The British Council’s call comes as the uptake of languages in schools faces a challenging time.

Official figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications highlight a 7.3% drop in the number of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland taking GCSE language exams in the past year, and a 1% drop at A Level.

Scottish Qualification Authority figures indicate that the situation is similar in Scotland with significant drops in French and German uptake in the past year.

The UK’s current lack of language skills is said to be holding back the country’s international trade performance at a cost of almost £50 billion a year.

“Learning other languages not only gives you an understanding of other cultures but is good for business, for life and for wellbeing too,” Gough added.

“The New Year is the perfect time to get started.”

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6 Responses to Spanish tops languages to learn in 2018, says British Council

  1. I agree, Brits should go for Spanish if they want to learn another language. It’s a world language, relatively approachable in terms of grammar and vocab and native speakers appreciate and are tolerant of people attempting to communicate in their language. It should not be forgotten that the US has a strong hispanic cultural element, with many millions speaking Spanish as their first language. And of course practically all of South America, with the notable exception of Brazil, is Spanish-speaking. Someone with the tenacity of Michael Gove is needed to make language-learning in schools really happen. Classes should be held in the target language, there should be trips abroad that involve staying with host families and expectations should be raised. My two sons both got A* in Spanish at GCSE but can hardly say a word when we go to Spain. There has been much talk of improving language skills in the UK over the years, but little action!

  2. Learning languages is a great thing for sure.
    Problem is too many businesses in the UK list language skills as an advantage rather than essential in job adverts and when people do posess language skills companies are reluctant to pay a good aalary in return. Check out the job ads for yourself and you will see my point

  3. Great to see this confirmed by a BC commissioned poll – at Cactus Language (the UK’s leading provider of evening language courses) we’ve seen a 20% uplift in enrollments for our evening language courses over the last 4 months – with Spanish being the most popular language of the 20+ languages we offer.

  4. I believe, English and French have more words in common than Spanish. and I think virtual space has been affected by Americans who prefer to learn Spanish. French is superior to Spanish.

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