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.
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.”