Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why

Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why
Languages for
the Future
Which languages the UK needs most and why
Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why
This report was commissioned by the British Council and prepared
by Teresa Tinsley and Kathryn Board of Alcantara Communications.

Teresa Tinsley is a linguist with over       Kathryn Board was Chief Executive          Alcantara Communications provides
30 years’ experience in national             of CILT, The National Centre for           expertise to national and international
organisations devoted to languages           Languages from 2008 and has worked         organisations, private companies and third
education. At CILT, the National Centre      with specialists and a wide range of       sector bodies on language education
for Languages, she led the organisation’s    educational institutions to provide        policies, multilingualism and languages
information, research and publications       advice on educational policy as well       in employment and undertakes research
activities. She established CILT’s           as on initiatives aimed at increasing      and analysis in this field.
‘Language Trends’ series of reports          language learning across the UK. Before
and produced statistics and policy           joining CILT, she spent 30 years working
developments published as Languages          for the British Council in a number of
Yearbooks 1995–2007. She was involved        international and management roles.
in several European research projects on     Now partially retired, she continues to
multilingualism and is a member of the       work on research projects where she
European Commission’s ‘Languages in          can bring in her expertise. Kathryn
Education and Training’ group. Since         speaks Spanish, German and Dutch and
founding Alcantara Communications,           is working hard on improving her Arabic.
she has conducted policy research on
languages issues for clients including the
British Academy and CfBT Education Trust.
Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why
Foreword                                                                            2
Executive summary                                                                   3
Introduction                                                                        4
The UK’s language challenge                                                         6
Identifying the languages the UK needs                                             10
Conclusion and recommendations                                                     19
The top ten languages                                                           22–41
Appendix: Matrix of language indicators
weightings and scores                                                                 42

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British Council
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                                                                                             Languages for the Future  1
Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why

On a poster on the wall in a university in Beijing, I recently read these
remarkable words from Nelson Mandela: ‘If you talk to a man in a
language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his
own language, that goes to his heart.’ Nearly 1,000 people were taking
their English exams that day.

I am proud to work for an organisation        unable – to travel, explore, navigate
which offers millions of learners             and engage at some level with people
worldwide access to the education,            in other languages.
job opportunities and social mobility
                                              The analysis of economic and cultural
that English brings. But in the UK we
                                              indicators in this report suggests not that
must accept that speaking English
                                              people in the UK are learning the wrong
alone is not enough in a world where
                                              languages, but that we need far more
multilingualism is becoming the norm.
                                              people learning a much wider range of
There can be no doubt that the UK needs       languages in the future. French, Spanish
more of its people to speak foreign           and German will continue to be important
languages – for employability, for trade      but we will also need significantly
and the economy, and for our cultural         more Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and
life. But, let’s be honest, there are         Portuguese speakers as well as speakers
big barriers to this. So many people          of Italian, Japanese, Russian and Turkish.
worldwide do speak English, and learning
                                              It is worth remembering that when we
foreign languages in the UK has often                                                             John Worne
                                              think of languages in the UK, we tend to
been seen as an academic pursuit rather                                                           Director of Strategy,
                                              think of ‘going away’. However, given
than a vital skill. Much of this revolves                                                         British Council
                                              that Japanese car manufacturers,
around the difference between being
                                              Chinese infrastructure developers and
‘fluent’ or ‘functional’ in a language.                                                           John Worne is responsible for the
                                              French utility companies all make huge
The British Council’s experience of English   contributions in the UK, you do not need            British Council’s global strategy,
language teaching is that what matters        to cross the equator or even the English            governance, web and digital presence
most is being able to understand and to be    Channel to find situations and jobs where           and reputation. He writes and speaks on
understood; whether the need is for basic     even a little Chinese, Japanese, or                 the value of culture and the importance
vocabulary to give directions to a taxi       French can be a real career enhancer.               of languages and international skills for
driver or for a more extensive vocabulary                                                         the UK’s young people. He is a regular
                                              Five or ten phrases will enable most                media commentator on soft power and
to be an international business person.
                                              people to navigate many countries at a              the UK’s standing in the world. A French
It is hard to know, especially at a young     basic level. 1,000 words can be enough              speaker, John has lived and worked in
age, which language is likely to be of        to feel autonomous, confident and secure            Paris as well as Hong Kong, Colombia,
most use. So perhaps a more ‘functional’      in another country and brings some                  Russia, Indonesia and Malaysia. He has
focus – having enough – might be the          cultural understanding. ‘Fluent’ is an              also held senior positions at the Cabinet
key to promoting language learning in         inhibitor, ‘functional’ is a liberator. It begins   Office and the Department of Health.
the UK. Not to impoverish or lessen the       with a few words and phrases – and that
academic or cultural value of long-term       small investment can grow into a lifetime
language study, but to increase the           of interest, employment and opportunity.
number of people who feel able – not

Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why
Executive Summary

It is a widely held – if not undisputed –                                                • Businesses, in that they should
                                               1    Spanish
view that the UK is lacking in the                                                         invest in the development of the
necessary language skills for the future,      2    Arabic                                 language skills from which they
partly because of the status of English                                                    will directly benefit.
                                               3    French
as the language of international                                                         • Policy makers, businesses,
communications.                                4    Mandarin Chinese
                                                                                           diaspora communities and minority
This report seeks to provide a strategic       5    German                                 communities; in terms of ensuring
analysis of the UK’s long-term language                                                    these groups’ language skills
                                               6    Portuguese
needs, looking at a variety of economic,                                                   and cultural skills are utilised
geopolitical, cultural and educational         7    Italian                                in the education system and for
indicators and scoring different languages                                                 business purposes.
                                              8=    Russian
against these. It identifies a list of                                                   • School curricula in all four countries,
ten languages which will be of crucial        8=    Turkish                                in that they should be enriched by
importance for the UK’s prosperity,           10    Japanese                               the inclusion of new languages and
security and influence in the world in                                                     an increased focus on understanding
the years ahead.                                                                           other cultures.
                                             A survey commissioned by the British
The indicators used are:                     Council for this report suggests that       • Schools, in exploiting the many
                                             three quarters of the UK public are           languages and cultural resources
1. current UK export trade
                                             unable to speak any of these languages        available; whether funded, free, local,
2. the language needs of UK business                                                       online or through international links
                                             well enough to hold a conversation.
3. UK government trade priorities                                                          and partnerships with other countries.
                                             These findings suggest not that people
4. emerging high growth markets                                                          • Young people – and their parents –
                                             in the UK are learning the wrong
5. diplomatic and security priorities                                                      in that they should seek out more
                                             languages, but the UK needs to develop
                                                                                           opportunities to learn languages and
6. the public’s language interests           its citizens’ competence in a wider range
                                                                                           experience other cultures, both in
7. outward visitor destinations              of languages, and in far greater numbers,
                                                                                           school and outside – and receive
                                             in order to reap the economic and
8. UK government’s International                                                           more consistent advice about the
                                             cultural benefits available to those who
   Education Strategy priorities                                                           benefits of doing so.
                                             have these skills.
9. levels of English proficiency                                                         • The UK’s international partnerships
   in other countries                        The conclusion of this analysis is that       with language and cultural institutes
                                             the UK must take a strategic approach         of other countries which enable
10. the prevalence of different
                                             in planning for effective development of      access to resources, support and
    languages on the internet.
                                             the language capacity which this country      learning from good practice in the
From the analysis of languages against       needs. This has implications for:             teaching and learning of languages.
these indicators – and it is worth           • The four UK governments, in terms of      • UK adults who currently do not speak
remembering that they include cultural         linking language education policy to        any of the key languages should
and educational priorities as well as          national aspirations for international      endeavour to learn the basics of
economic ones – comes a list of the            engagement in business, education           one of them.
ten most important languages for the           and cultural fields.
UK’s future; in order:
                                             • Governments and business, in that
                                               they must work together to develop
                                               educational policy and priorities
                                               relating to languages.

                                                                                                  Languages for the Future  3
Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why

Languages are the bedrock of the world’s cultural heritage.
Every language offers a rich and unique insight into different
ways of thinking and living as well as into the history of the
myriad of cultures and peoples across the globe.

David Crystal has written passionately                        speakers, unable to tap into the                              long-term benefits. It is important,
about the need to appreciate and                              multilingual environments enjoyed                             therefore, to attempt to address the
understand the world’s linguistic                             by others, would face a bleak                                 difficult question of which languages are
heritage in the same way that we value                        economic future.                                              likely to provide the best outcomes, and
its biological diversity.1 All languages                                                                                    to identify criteria by which we may be
                                                              Studies for the European Commission
are equal from a linguistic point of view.                                                                                  able to judge the potential value of one
                                                              have shown that the economic benefits
It is as wrong to judge the value of                                                                                        over another in terms of the UK’s future
                                                              of competence in more than one
one against another as it would be to                                                                                       economic prosperity and security.
                                                              language are not limited to English.4
compare the relative value of, say, the
                                                              A wide range of languages are needed                          Public debate about which languages are
culture of Renaissance Italy with that
                                                              to exploit the benefits of the single market                  important to learn is often dominated by
of Imperial China. But when it comes to
                                                              and keep improving trade between                              the particular interests of the individual
investing time, money and effort in the
                                                              peoples worldwide. Even when others                           commentator and too often lacks a solid
learning of languages, practical factors
                                                              have a high level of proficiency in English,                  and balanced information base. In shaping
inevitably come into play. Politicians,
                                                              this does not mean that their languages                       policy and priorities it is also important
taxpayers, parents and learners all want
                                                              can be ignored. In order to develop                           to balance economic with non-market
to be able to invest in those languages
                                                              relations between countries and                               interests – cultural, intellectual, individual
where their efforts and resources are
                                                              individuals based on mutual respect                           and societal factors. Current needs and
going to prove most effective for their
                                                              and trust as well as to do business                           the demands of the present must also
particular needs.
                                                              effectively, there is a need for an                           be considered alongside changing global
There is no denying the importance                            understanding of the social, political,                       patterns of economic and cultural
of English as a common means of                               and technical systems of a country,                           exchange, and what this might mean for
communication across the world, or its                        as well as the innumerable aspects                            languages needed in the future. The UK’s
strength as the first foreign language                        of daily life that are important to that                      position in the world depends not only
of choice for most non-Anglophone                             nation’s identity and culture.                                on its membership of organisations like
countries.2 But David Graddol’s 2006                                                                                        the Commonwealth and the European
                                                              Of course people learn languages for
analysis of global language trends was                                                                                      Union (EU), but also on considering
                                                              more than purely instrumental purposes,
a timely warning against complacency                                                                                        where trust between other countries
                                                              but learners do want to be able to use
regarding the predominance of English                                                                                       and the UK could be enhanced by a
                                                              the languages they have learned, and
worldwide.3 He predicted that the                                                                                           greater understanding of their languages
                                                              taxpayers and governments want to see
competitive advantage of English will                                                                                       and cultures.
                                                              their education resources spent in a way
ebb and that monolingual English
                                                              that will provide the greatest possible

1.   David Crystal (2000) Language Death, Cambridge University Press.
2.   Janet Enever, Jayne Moon and Uma Raman (2009) Young Learner English Language Policy and Implementation: International Perspectives, British Council and Garnet Education.
3.   David Graddol (2006) English Next, British Council.

Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why
This publication focuses on the UK’s                               Neither does it set out to provide an      enrich cultural understanding and provide
long-term strategic needs for languages                            in-depth consideration of the use          a valuable resource which can be drawn
and asks which of them are most likely                             of particular languages in different       on in overcoming communication barriers
to meet the UK’s needs and aspirations                             contexts and environments, but to          in an international context. All and any
over the next 20 or so years.                                      provide a strategic analysis to feed       languages are worth having – this report
                                                                   into public debate.                        simply indicates those the UK needs most.
It uses a number of criteria, based on
both economic and non-economic                                     It cannot be stressed strongly enough
factors, to help identify language                                 that all languages are valuable and this
requirements for global engagement,                                report does not seek to advise against
using evidence from a range of sources.                            learning a language which might suit
It does not seek to provide the definitive                         an individual’s interests and particular
answer – recognising that politics and                             needs. The knowledge of any language
priorities are very likely to change over                          in addition to one’s mother tongue not
time – but rather to provide material for                          only expands linguistic capability, but
an informed discussion of the issues.                              can also give access to employment,

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Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why
the UK’s language challenge

The current language deficit                                      Despite this apparent richness, the need                             the 4,700 students who have been
                                                                  for the UK to improve its capability in                              accepted in 2013 to start language
In many ways the UK is linguistically rich.
                                                                  languages is incontestable, as shown by                              degrees is dwarfed by almost ten times
It has major indigenous languages: Welsh,
                                                                  the following factors:                                               that number taking business studies.14
Gaelic, Irish, Scots, Ulster Scots, Manx
and Cornish; and in total somewhere                               • The achievement of pupils in England                             • British employers regularly express
between 200 and 300 languages                                       in the European Survey on Language                                 dissatisfaction with school and college
are represented amongst its diverse                                 Competences was poorer than that                                   leavers’ skills in languages. In a
population.5 The 2011 UK Census                                     of pupils from any other country taking                            2013 survey of businesses by the
identified Polish as the most widely                                part.10 In fact, 30 per cent of 15 year                            Confederation of British Industry only
spoken ‘main language’ after the UK’s                               olds about to take their GCSE exams                                36 per cent were satisfied with their
own indigenous languages (but the                                   did not achieve any measurable level at                            employees’ language skills, compared
formulation of the census question                                  all in the language they were studying.                            with 93 per cent who were satisfied
meant that many other languages spoken                                                                                                 or very satisfied with school and
                                                                  • The number of students taking A-levels
by more established immigrant groups                                                                                                   college leavers’ skills in the use
                                                                    in languages has been falling for a
were under-represented). Pupil censuses                                                                                                of IT.15 Seven out of ten businesses
                                                                    number of years – in 2013 alone by
carried out by the Department for                                                                                                      stated that they value language skills
                                                                    five per cent. Languages now make
Education (DfE),6 the Scottish Executive,7                                                                                             in their employees.
                                                                    up only 3.8 per cent of all subject
education authorities in Wales8 and                                 entries, meaning that fewer than one                             • In their 2012 publication Exporting is
research conducted by the Northern                                  in every 26 students learns a language                             good for Britain, the British Chambers
Ireland Department of Education9 show                               beyond a basic level. French and                                   of Commerce16 argued that an inability
that the top ten languages spoken by                                German entries fell by ten per cent                                to trade in languages other than
schoolchildren in the UK consist of four                            and 11 per cent respectively,                                      English is damaging the UK’s export
from the Indian subcontinent (Panjabi,                              following on from five per cent and                                performance. Their report stated
Urdu, Gujarati and Bengali), three from                             seven per cent declines in 2012.11                                 that ‘the extent of the language
Europe (Polish, French and Portuguese),                             In Scotland there is concern about                                 deficit in the UK is truly serious: up
and Arabic, Tamil and Somali. The                                   the continuing decline in French                                   to 96 per cent of respondents had
linguistic skills of these children should                          and German in both Standard                                        no foreign language ability for the
be taken into account in any consideration                          Grade and Higher examinations.12                                   markets they served, and the largest
of how language skills can be developed                                                                                                language deficits are for the fastest-
                                                                  • There is concern about the low
to enhance future cultural and economic                                                                                                developing markets.’17
                                                                    numbers of students taking language
contacts between the UK and countries                                                                                                • The British Academy has made a
                                                                    degree courses.13 As a front page
where these languages are spoken.                                                                                                      powerful case for languages not
                                                                    article in the Observer recently noted,

5.    John Eversley et al. (2010) Language Capital. Mapping the Languages of London’s Schoolchildren, CILT/Institute of Education.
6.    National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (2011) School Census January 2011 Language Data. Number of Compulsory School Age Pupils in Primary,
      Secondary and Special Schools by Declared First Language:
7.    National Statistics (2011) Pupils in Scotland 2011. Main Home Language.
8.    Welsh Assembly Government (2010) School Census:
9.    Department of Education Northern Ireland (2013) Newcomer Pupils:
10.   European Commission (2012) First European Survey on Language Competences. Final Report:
11.   Joint Council for Qualifications (2013) A, AS and AEA Results, Summer 2013.
12.   Scottish Qualifications Authority (2013) National Course and Awards Result Statistics 2013.
13.   See latest statement from the Higher Education Funding Council for England at
14.   The figures on which this article is based are published at
15.   Confederation of British Industry and Pearson (2013) Changing the Pace. CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2013.
16.   British Chambers of Commerce (2012) Exporting Is Good for Britain – Skills:
17.   ibid.
18.   British Academy (2011) Language Matters More and More. A Position Statement.
19.   Ethnologue:

Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why
only in relation to trade and global                   Making sense of the                                 at all, or instead be putting its energies
   economy, but also for greater                          UK’s language needs                                 into developing competence in major
   intercultural understanding, as well                                                                       global languages such as Mandarin
                                                          But which languages does the UK most
   as highlighting their value as both                                                                        Chinese and Arabic? And what about
                                                          need? Unlike their peers in many countries
   the object and vehicle of study and                                                                        Russian and Japanese, heralded some
                                                          of the world, people in English-speaking
   research.18 It states that ‘Understanding                                                                  years ago as upcoming languages,
                                                          nations do not have one obvious language
   the languages, cultures and societies                                                                      but stubbornly resistant to significant
                                                          which everyone should learn. Traditionally
   of others, as well as the way in which                                                                     growth within our education systems?
                                                          our schools and universities have taught
   languages interact with each other and
                                                          French and German, but these are the                In terms of numbers of first language
   with English, is an important means
                                                          languages that have suffered most from              speakers, Mandarin Chinese is easily
   of improving intercultural interactions
                                                          recent declines. The number of people               the most predominant language in the
   and enhancing social well-being at
                                                          studying Spanish has increased steadily             world today, and collectively, all Chinese
   home as well as overseas.’
                                                          – to the extent that it has now overtaken           languages total 1,197 million native
• A recent survey conducted by YouGov                     German as the UK’s second most                      speakers.19 Many of the languages in
  for the British Council highlights that                 popular language to learn. But is this              Chart 1 below also have very large
  75 per cent of the adult UK population                  what the UK needs, given the strength               numbers of second language speakers.
  is unable to hold a conversation in                     of the German economy, its status as                It would be easy to conclude that we
  any of the ten languages highlighted                    the UK’s number one trading partner                 should align our language learning
  as important in this report.                            and known employer demand for                       efforts accordingly, but does this reflect
                                                          German in the UK? Indeed, should the                the true balance of the UK’s future needs?
                                                          UK be looking at European languages

Chart 1: Top ten most widely spoken languages, by first language speakers (millions)

                  848                               406               335          260           223             203         193       162        122      84

                                                 Spanish                           Hindi                      Portuguese              Russian           Javanese

           Mandarin Chinese                                         English                     Arabic                      Bengali             Japanese
                                                                                            (all varieties)

Source: Ethnologue:

                                                                                                                           Languages for the Future  7
Languages for the future - Which languages the UK needs most and why
English is of course widely used as a            Table 1: Ranking of economies with the largest GDP in 2010
lingua franca as well as in international        versus 2020 (PPP I$)
organisations such as the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank,            Rank                         2010                                            2020
where it is the only official language. But
                                                   1                 United States                                              China
a number of other languages also appear
frequently as co-official languages in             2                           China                                            United States
international organisations. The United
                                                   3                           Japan                                            India
Nations (UN), for example, has as its official
languages Arabic, Chinese, English,                4                            India                                           Japan
French, Russian and Spanish while the
                                                   5                       Germany                                              Russia
International Labour Organisation (ILO)
uses English, French and Spanish.                  6                          Russia                                            Germany
French is an official language alongside
                                                   7              United Kingdom                                                Brazil
English at the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD),               8                          France                                            United Kingdom
the International Olympic Committee and
                                                   9                           Brazil                                           France
the Council of Europe, while Spanish
and Portuguese are co-official in pan-             10                            Italy                                          Mexico
American institutions, as are Portuguese           11                        Mexico                                             South Korea
and French in African international
organisations. In the EU, the national             12                  South Korea                                              Indonesia
languages of all member states are                 13                          Spain                                            Italy
official, with English, French and German
considered ‘procedural languages’.                 14                        Canada                                             Canada

Table 1 shows a ranking of the top                 15                     Indonesia                                             Spain
15 economies based on GDP in 2010
                                                 Source: Euromonitor International 2010
and 2020 by Euromonitor. The growing             (
importance of emerging economies will            Purchasing power parity (PPP) is a method of measuring the relative purchasing power of different countries’
have implications for global influence,          currencies over the same types of goods and services, thus allowing a more accurate comparison of living standards.

consumption, investment and the
environment. Their developing consumer
markets present enormous opportunities
for businesses (although it is worth noting
that income per capita will remain
higher in the established economies).

Languages for the Future  9
Identifying the languages
the UK needs

Methodology                                     Table 2: The ten factors                             The ten indicators chosen take into
                                                                                                     account future requirements as well
Investment in language learning, whether         1           Current UK export trade                 as current practice. Evidence has
by central government, educational
                                                 2           The language needs                      been gathered from international
institutions or private sector organisations,
                                                             of UK business                          organisations, from UK government
requires a systematic analysis of which
                                                                                                     sources, from business organisations
languages can bring most benefits,               3           Government’s future
                                                                                                     and from independent research. The
whether to people, society at large or                       trade priorities
                                                                                                     criteria have been selected to capture
our economy. This publication seeks to
                                                 4           Emerging high                           ‘bottom up’ indications from business
take forward this analysis by identifying
                                                             growth markets                          organisations and the general public,
a number of criteria which can be
                                                                                                     as well as the way in which languages
used to aid the prioritisation of languages      5           Diplomatic and
                                                             security priorities                     can support ‘top down’ government
and has taken into account both market
                                                                                                     policy. The research does not make
and non-market factors. Economic                 6           The public’s                            value judgements about the relative
indicators have been balanced with                           language interests                      worth of different cultures.
cultural indicators, public interest in
                                                 7           Outward and inward tourism              The methodology is open to refinement
learning different languages, and the
need to develop strong relationships             8           Government’s international              with the addition of new indicators or
for diplomatic, educational or strategic                     education strategy priorities           alternative weighting, should this be
purposes.                                                                                            thought beneficial. For example, the
                                                 9           Levels of English proficiency
                                                                                                     extent to which languages or their scripts
Economic and cultural factors have                           in other countries
                                                                                                     are related could be factored in – the
been weighted equally and then qualified
                                                 10          The prevalence of different             ability to read the Arabic alphabet gives
with two additional contextual factors:                      languages on the internet               access not only to Arabic, but to Urdu,
the extent to which people in the countries
                                                                                                     Farsi and other languages; and vice
concerned are proficient in English and               Economic factors
                                                                                                     versa. Similarly one might wish to include
the representation of different languages             Cultural, educational and diplomatic factors   the extent to which different languages
on the internet.
                                                      Balancing factors                              are easy to learn for English speakers.

                                                                                                     Consistent with the macro focus of the
                                                                                                     research, the data used relates, in general,
                                                                                                     to the whole of the UK; data taken from
                                                                                                     sources of evidence relating to the
                                                                                                     individual nations of the UK might give
                                                                                                     slightly different results for England,
                                                                                                     Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales
                                                                                                     respectively. As has been noted above,
                                                                                                     the aim is not to provide a definitive
                                                                                                     answer, but to open up a discussion about
                                                                                                     which languages are most important.

Economic factors                                                 account, since this would necessitate a                    Table 3: Top ten languages of the
                                                                 much more complex piece of research.                       UK’s current most important
Current UK export trade
                                                                 However, the likely extent to which                        export markets (excluding English)
(Indicator 1)                                                    business can be done in English has been
The main source for current demand                                                                                            Rank        Language
                                                                 factored in – see Table 8 on page 15.
is the Office of National Statistics (ONS)                                                                                    1           German
data on the UK’s top export markets                              It is recognised, however, that there is
in 2012. These are set out in Chart 2.                           no straightforward relationship between                      2           Dutch
A simple matching exercise makes                                 one nation and one language, and
                                                                                                                              3           French
it possible to identify the languages                            that global mobility and the internet
most associated with these countries.                            are creating ever more complex                               4           Mandarin and other
                                                                 multilingual societies.                                                  Chinese languages
For the purpose of this exercise, regional
                                                                 The top ten languages associated with                        5           Spanish
or lesser-used languages have been
omitted. More detailed patterns of                               the UK’s current largest export markets
                                                                                                                              6           Italian
language use in business in different                            are shown in Table 3.
                                                                                                                              7           Swedish
countries have not been taken into
                                                                                                                              8           Russian

                                                                                                                              9           Arabic

                                                                                                                              10          Japanese

Chart 2: UK’s top export markets in 2012
                                                                                              Value (millions)

                                 0                        £9,000                    £18,000                      £27,000                     £36,000                      £45,000

              United States                                                                                                                                        41,089

                   Germany                                                                                                               32,669

          The Netherlands                                                                                        25,204

                      France                                                                      20,213

                      Ireland                                                            17,532

Belgium and Luxembourg                                                          14,675

                       China                                         10,538

                       Spain                                 8,546

                         Italy                              8,126

                Switzerland                              6,777

                    Sweden                         5,772

                      Russia                       5,587

                 Hong Kong                        5,369

     United Arab Emirates                         5,364

                       Japan                     4,922

Source: Office for National Statistics (2013) Publications Tables UK Trade February 2013:
Note: This chart shows goods export figures from 2012. Equivalent figures for services in 2012 were not available at the time of publication. An analysis of 2011 services export
figures suggests that including services would not alter our list of top ten languages (shown on page 17 in this report).

                                                                                                                                        Languages for the Future  11
The language needs of UK                                    UK government future trade                                   In part this adds further weight to German,
business (Indicator 2)                                      priorities (Indicator 3)                                     French, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish and
The second source of evidence used                          In its strategy for future international                     Arabic which have already been
in relation to the current language needs                   business engagement, Trade and                               mentioned above, but it also introduces
of business is the Confederation of British                 Investment for Growth,21 the UK                              some new languages into the mix:
Industry’s 2013 Education and Skills                        government stresses the continuing                           Portuguese, Korean, Turkish and
Survey.20 It reports that 70 per cent of                    importance of trade with existing                            Indonesian as well as the languages
responding businesses value language                        partners including the EU, mentioning                        of India and South Africa. All these
skills among their employees, particularly                  in particular Germany, France and                            languages have been treated equally
in helping to build relationships with                      Benelux, as well as the Nordic and Baltic                    and not put into any rank order.
clients, customers and suppliers. From                      countries. But it also mentions India,
this report the top ten languages most                      Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, the Gulf
in demand are shown in Chart 3.                             States, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia.

Chart 3: Percentage of companies rating this language as useful to their organisation
                      0                             20                      40                          60                       80                   100

            French                                                                          49

           German                                                                     45

           Spanish                                                     34

             Polish                                             29

Mandarin Chinese                                              28

             Arabic                            16

        Cantonese                              16

           Russian                        13

       Portuguese                         13

         Japanese                  8

Source: Confederation of British Industry and Pearson (2013) Changing the Pace. CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2013.

Emerging high growth markets                                     Table 4: High growth markets and their languages
(Indicator 4)
                                                                   Country                        Language
Evidence was used from the joint CBI/
Ernst & Young publication Winning                                  Argentina                      Spanish
Overseas,22 which is explicit about the
                                                                   Bangladesh                     Bengali
need for better language skills in order
to improve the UK’s export potential. It                           Brazil                         Portuguese
calls for a more strategic approach in
                                                                   Chile                          Spanish
order to target high-growth markets in
less developed countries, citing not only                          China                          Mandarin and other Chinese languages
the so-called BRIC(S) countries but also
                                                                   Colombia                       Spanish
the ‘Next 11’ identified by Goldman
Sachs and the ‘25 high growth markets’                             Czech Republic                  Czech
set out by Ernst & Young. Combining the
                                                                   Egypt                           Arabic
‘Next 11’ and ‘25 high growth markets’
produces the list of countries and                                 Ghana                           English, plus Akan and others
associated languages shown in Table 4.
                                                                   India                           English, Hindi, Gujarati, Panjabi, Urdu, Bengali and others
This listing introduces a number of
                                                                   Indonesia                       Indonesian, Javanese and others
languages not yet mentioned, as well as
giving further weight to some of those                             Iran                            Farsi
already identified. Spanish and Arabic
                                                                   Kazakhstan                      Kazakh
score particularly highly on this indicator.
                                                                   Malaysia                        Malaysian
Making predictions for future economic
importance can be precarious, and                                  Mexico                          Spanish
political events may intervene to change
                                                                   Nigeria                         English, plus Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and others
expectations, as can be seen in Egypt,
in the time since this analysis was                                Pakistan                        Urdu
undertaken by the CBI and its partners.
                                                                   Philippines                     Tagalog
For this reason a range of sources has
been used for this research to balance                             Poland                          Polish
the score.                                                         Russia                          Russian
An explanation of individual scores and                            Saudi Arabia                    Arabic
how points were awarded is provided
in the Appendix.                                                   South Africa                    English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu and others

                                                                   South Korea                     Korean

                                                                   Taiwan                          Mandarin Chinese

                                                                   Thailand                        Thai

                                                                   Turkey                          Turkish

                                                                   United Arab Emirates            Arabic

                                                                   Ukraine                         Ukrainian

                                                                   Vietnam                         Vietnamese

20. Confederation of British Industry and Pearson (2013) Changing the Pace. CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2013.
21.   Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2011) Trade and Investment for Growth.
22. Confederation of British Industry/Ernst & Young (2011) Winning Overseas: Boosting Business Export Performance.

                                                                                                                              Languages for the Future  13
Interim analysis of languages                                     and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the            A Eurobarometer survey carried out
needed for economic reasons                                       Serious and Organised Crime Agency            in 2012,25 which interviewed 1,000
Combining the evidence from the four                              and the Government Communication              adults across the UK, found that French,
economic indicators used, the languages                           Headquarters (GCHQ), among others.            followed by Spanish, German, Chinese,
already most widely taught in the UK                              The report reflected the growing              Italian and Russian, were regarded as the
education system (German, Spanish and                             importance now being given to language        most useful languages to learn. However,
French) emerge as the most important                              competence within the FCO’s Diplomatic        this survey only provided respondents
languages for UK trade. These are                                 Excellence initiative, with specialist        with a choice of six languages and is
followed by Arabic, Mandarin Chinese,                             knowledge of foreign states, languages,       perhaps more indicative of past practice
Dutch and Portuguese, then Russian                                and peoples now explicitly acknowledged       than future intent.
and Swedish, with Polish in tenth place.                          to be an important element of the British
                                                                                                                The decision was taken to use the
                                                                  diplomat’s skill set. It also made the case
Table 5: Languages needed                                                                                       availability of beginner courses for adults
                                                                  that the national security agenda now
for economic purposes                                                                                           as an indicator of public interest in learning
                                                                  encompasses conflict prevention and
                                                                                                                particular languages, since such courses
                                                                  peace-building, activities in which
  Language                                      Score                                                           can be provided on a more flexible basis
                                                                  language assumes an important role.
                                                                                                                than languages in schools or universities,
  German                                        24                At the same time new linguistic skills
                                                                                                                and reflect grassroots public interest,
                                                                  are required to counter the growth of
  French                                        23                                                              rather than past practice. Research into
                                                                  cybercrime, organised crime enabled by
  Spanish                                       23
                                                                                                                part-time evening courses26 – selecting
                                                                  the ease of global communications, and
                                                                                                                those which do not lead to qualifications,
  Arabic                                        15
                                                                  terrorism. Although the British Academy’s
                                                                                                                since formal qualifications are not
                                                                  report did not seek to identify priority
  Mandarin Chinese                              15                                                              available for all languages – shows that
                                                                  languages, our review of its findings
                                                                                                                Spanish is the most popular language by
  Dutch                                         14                shows Arabic and Mandarin Chinese
                                                                                                                this measure and the top ten languages
                                                                  as the most frequently cited. These are
  Portuguese                                    10                                                              are shown in the table below.
                                                                  followed by Spanish, Portuguese
  Russian                                       9                 and Farsi (Persian) as well as Korean,        Table 6: Languages offered
                                                                  Pashto and Turkish. A wide range              as evening classes
  Swedish                                       9                 of other languages, including French,
                                                                  German, Polish, Urdu and Vietnamese            Languages most                  Number
  Polish                                        8
                                                                                                                 frequently offered              of
                                                                  are cited as important.
                                                                                                                 as part-time evening            pages
Details of the scores, evidence and
                                                                  The public’s language interests                classes across                  of web
rationale behind each indicator are                                                                              the UK (without                 listings
                                                                  (Indicator 6)
provided in the Appendix.                                                                                        qualifications)
                                                                  This indicator seeks to represent
                                                                  grassroots public demand for language          Spanish                         9
Cultural, educational                                             learning in the UK, with the caveat
and diplomatic factors                                            that demand is often conditioned
                                                                                                                 French                          7
                                                                                                                 Italian                         7
Diplomatic and security                                           by the availability of courses, rather
priorities (Indicator 5)                                          than vice versa.                               German                          4
                                                                                                                 Japanese                        3
For this indicator researchers drew                               Looking at A-level entries, it is evident

on a recent inquiry carried out by                                that Spanish, Polish, Russian, Arabic,         Mandarin Chinese                2
the British Academy to establish                                  Turkish, Portuguese and Mandarin               Arabic                          2
how languages are used by the UK                                  Chinese are all increasing, but this may       Polish                          2
government in meeting public policy                                                                              Portuguese                      2
                                                                  reflect populations of speakers of these
                                                                                                                 Russian                         2
objectives in the areas of diplomacy and                          languages resident in the UK, rather
security.23 The inquiry took evidence                             than wider public demand.                     Source:
from organisations including the Foreign

23. British Academy (forthcoming) Lost for words. The Need for Languages in UK Diplomacy and Security.
    We are grateful to the British Academy for allowing us access to a pre-publication copy of this report.
24.   Joint Council for Qualifications (2013) A, AS and AEA Results, Summer 2013.
25. European Commission (2012) Europeans and Their Languages. Special Eurobarometer 386.
27.   Populus/British Council (2013) (available on request from the British Council).
28. House of Commons library (2013) Tourism. Standard Note SN/EP/6022.
29. HM Government (2013) International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity.

Outward visitor destinations                   UK government international                    Interim analysis of languages
(Indicator 7)                                  Education Strategy priorities                  needed for cultural, educational
Overseas visitor figures provide a good        (Indicator 8)                                  and diplomatic reasons
indication of interchange between              In July 2013 the UK government published       By combining evidence from the four
different countries and peoples, the           its International Education Strategy,29        indicators used in this section, the
sort of contact that people in the UK          setting out the opportunities it sees          following interim ranking of languages
typically experience with speakers             as a result of demographic changes             most needed for cultural, educational
of other languages.                            in rapidly emerging economies. This            and diplomatic reasons emerges:
                                               involves both attracting international
Research by Populus commissioned by                                                           Table 7: Languages for
                                               students to the UK and supporting
the British Council27 showed that 22 per                                                      cultural, educational and
                                               transnational education. Although the
cent of British adults say they have paid                                                     diplomatic purposes
                                               teaching and learning of English is an
more for goods or services as a result
                                               important element of this strategy,             Language                        Score
of not being able to speak the local
                                               the government wants to demonstrate
language when overseas, 18 per cent                                                            Spanish                         35
                                               that the UK seeks to build relationships
report that they have stayed primarily
                                               based on mutual respect and a two-way           Arabic                          20.5
in resorts – avoiding the local culture –
                                               exchange of ideas and people.
when on holiday and eight per cent                                                             Portuguese                      20
admit they have caused offence                 The International Education Strategy
on holiday as a result of a lack of                                                            French                          18
                                               identifies eight priority countries and one
understanding of the local culture.            region as the primary focus of international    Mandarin Chinese                16.5
                                               education partnerships. These are China,
The most visited non-English-speaking                                                          Italian                         16.5
                                               India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Colombia,
countries by people from the UK in 2012
                                               Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia and the Gulf.         German                          14.5
were (in descending order) Spain, France,
                                               The languages involved are Chinese
Germany, Portugal, Greece, Poland                                                              Turkish                         11
                                               languages, Indian languages,
and Turkey.28 Points have therefore
                                               Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish, Turkish            Polish                          7.5
been given to Spanish, French,
                                               and Indonesian. The education sectors
German, Portuguese, Greek, Polish                                                              Farsi                           7
                                               in these countries are more likely to want
and Turkish in descending order.
                                               to engage with those who can meet
                                                                                              Comparing this ranking with the top
Languages are also useful for providing        them halfway and demonstrate mutual
                                                                                              languages required for economic
information and a warmer welcome               respect and understanding by working
                                                                                              purposes, it is interesting to note that
to visitors to the UK. According to Visit      in the language of the host country.
                                                                                              Italian, Turkish and Farsi have come
Britain, the largest inbound tourist markets
                                               Four points were allocated each time           into the list at the expense of Russian,
were France, Germany, The Netherlands,
                                               a country was mentioned in the report          Dutch and Swedish.
Spain, Italy, Poland and Belgium.
                                               and this favoured Arabic and Spanish,
                                                                                              Details of the scores, evidence and
An explanation of individual scores and        which are used in more than one of the
                                                                                              rationale behind each indicator are
how points were awarded is provided in         countries mentioned.
                                                                                              provided in the Appendix.
the Appendix.
Balancing factors                                 Table 8: English proficiency

The findings on economic and cultural/              Level of proficiency                 Countries relevant                   Languages
diplomatic needs have been qualified                in English                           to this study                        concerned
with two further indicators: the degree
                                                    Very low                             Chile, Kuwait, Brazil,               Spanish, Arabic,
to which populations in different countries
                                                                                         Egypt, UAE, Colombia,                Portuguese
are able to speak English, and the
                                                                                         Saudi Arabia
extent of use of different languages
on the internet.                                    Low                                  Indonesia, Iran, Russia,             Spanish, Indonesian,
                                                                                         Taiwan, Vietnam, Turkey,             Farsi, Russian, Chinese
Levels of English proficiency in                                                         China, Qatar, Mexico                 languages, Vietnamese,
other countries (Indicator 9)                                                                                                 Turkish, Arabic
The English Proficiency Index30
                                                    Moderate                             Spain, Portugal, Japan,              Indian languages,
benchmarks English proficiency in                                                        France, Italy                        French, German,
54 countries using a sample of just                                                                                           Spanish, Portuguese,
under two million people:                                                                                                     Japanese, Italian
One point per language per country was              High                                 Belgium, Austria,                    Dutch, French, German,
allocated for those with only a moderate                                                 Germany, Poland,                     Polish, Malaysian
level of English, two points for those                                                   Singapore, Malaysia
with low proficiency and three points
                                                    Very high                            Sweden, The Netherlands,             Swedish, Dutch,
for those with very low proficiency
                                                                                         Norway                               Norwegian
(see Table 8).

The prevalence of different                       Source: English Proficiency Index:

languages on the internet
(Indicator 10)                                    Chart 4: Internet use by language
Chart 4, compiled from Internet World
Stats, shows that, although English is                                                                                   English
still the most dominant language on the
internet, Chinese is running a close                              18%
second. Spanish and Japanese are the                                                            27%
next most frequently used languages.                                                                                     Japanese
Details of the scores, evidence and                     3%                                                               Portuguese

rationale behind each indicator are                    3%                                                                German
provided in the Appendix.                              3%
                                                                5%                           24%                         Russian

                                                                        8%                                               Korean

                                                                                                                         Other languages

                                                  Source: Top ten internet languages:

30. English Proficiency Index:

The ten most important                      Table 9: The top ten languages
                                             language                                                                       Score
Taking all ten indicators used in this
analysis into account, the ten languages                 Spanish                                                            76
which emerge as the most important                       Arabic                                                             54
for the UK are as set out in Table 9.
                                                         French                                                             47
Details of the scores for different
languages appear in the Appendix                         Mandarin Chinese                                                   45.5
along with an explanation of the                         German                                                             43.5
evidence underlying each indicator.
                                                         Portuguese                                                         41
The British Council commissioned a
survey from YouGov to find out to what                   Italian                                                            22.5
extent the UK population was able to                     Russian                                                            19
communicate in the languages identified.
                                                         Turkish                                                            19
The results can be seen in Chart 5. It is
clear that considerable work needs to                    Japanese                                                           17
be done to increase the UK’s language
capacity and this report offers a set of
recommendations to address the deficit.     Chart 5: Language skills in the UK’s adult population
                                            Question: Which, if any, of the following languages can you speak well enough
                                            to hold a conversation? (Please tick all that apply)

                                                                                Survey of language skills in the UK’s population (per cent)


                                             80         75






                                             20                        15

                                             10                                      6
                                                                                              4                                                                                            3
                                                                                                        2         1         1            1               1        0.43      0.43
                                                       None of these







                                                                                                                                     Mandarin Chinese




                                                                                                                                                                                         Don't know

                                            Source: Survey of 4,171 UK adults, YouGov. Fieldwork was undertaken 1–4 October 2013. The survey was carried out
                                            online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

                                                                                                                                     Languages for the Future  17
Other Languages                                                  destinations for visitors from the UK.                        a third of a million children. In Scotland,
                                                                 The 2011 UK census revealed that Polish                       Urdu and Panjabi are second and third
Beyond the ‘top ten’ languages identified,
                                                                 is now the third most widely spoken                           in importance respectively.37 However,
there were four other languages, or
                                                                 language in the UK after English and                          Indian languages are currently taught
groups of languages, which emerged
                                                                 Welsh. With over 47,000 speakers,                             at the margins of mainstream education,
as important for the UK according
                                                                 it is the fourth most widely spoken                           supported by families and local
to the indicators used in this report,
                                                                 language by English schoolchildren                            communities.38 Entry numbers at A-level
scoring above ten points each. These
                                                                 with English as an additional language.33                     and at GCSE are small39 and Indian
were Dutch, Polish, Indian languages
                                                                 Among Scottish pupils it is the most                          languages are not widely available at
and Korean.
                                                                 widely spoken language after English                          degree level in British universities.40
The position of Dutch reflects the fact                          with more than 7,000 speakers.34
                                                                                                                               Korean is spoken as a first language by
that The Netherlands is the second most
                                                                 Indian languages are important                                some 78 million people and is the official
important non-English speaking goods
                                                                 because of India’s position as the                            language of South Korea, North Korea
export market for the UK after Germany.31
                                                                 second most populous country in the                           and parts of China. South Korea is cited
Belgium, in which Dutch is an official
                                                                 world and a growing economic power.35                         by the CBI41 as one of the world’s fastest
language, and Luxembourg are in fourth
                                                                 India is currently the UK’s 18th largest                      growing markets and important for the
place. This accounts for the high demand
                                                                 goods export market worth £4.6 billion                        UK’s economy over the next decade
for Dutch in job advertisements.32 Dutch
                                                                 in 2012. Indian languages are widely                          and beyond. It was a very early adopter
people are the third most frequent
                                                                 spoken in large minority communities                          of the internet and Korean usage currently
travellers to the UK of any non-English
                                                                 in the UK. Department for Education                           accounts for two per cent of the global
speaking country.
                                                                 statistics show Panjabi, Urdu and                             figures for internet use.42 Korean is not
The status of Polish is based on Poland                          Bengali as the top three languages                            available in the UK either as a GCSE or
being identified as one of the world’s                           spoken by English schoolchildren with                         A-level subject.
rapidly growing markets and the fact                             English as an additional language.36
that Poland is one of the top ten                                Together these account for more than

31.   Office for National Statistics (2013) Publications Tables UK Trade February 2013:
32. Anne Marie Graham (2013) Labour Market Intelligence Report – a Picture of the Jobs Market, Summer 2012 in British Academy/Teresa Tinsley,
    The State of the Nation. Demand and Supply of Language Skills in the UK:
33. National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (2011) School Census January 2011 Language Data. Number of Compulsory School Age Pupils in Primary,
    Secondary and Special Schools by Declared First Language:
34. National Statistics (2011) Pupils in Scotland 2011, Main Home Language?
35. Office for National Statistics (2013) Publications Tables UK Trade February 2013:
36. National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (2011) School Census January 2011 Language Data. Number of Compulsory School Age Pupils in Primary,
    Secondary and Special Schools by Declared First Language:
37.   National Statistics (2011) Pupils in Scotland 2011, Main Home Language.
38. CILT, SCILT and CILT Cyrmu (2005) Community Language Learning in England, Wales and Scotland.
39. Teresa Tinsley and Kathryn Board (2012) ‘Language Learning in Primary and Secondary Schools in England – Languages Trends Survey’, CfBT Education Trust
40. British Academy/Teresa Tinsley (2013) The State of the Nation. Demand and Supply of Language Skills in the UK, British Academy:
41.   Confederation of British Industry/Ernst and Young (2011) Winning Overseas: Boosting Business Export Performance.
42. Top ten internet languages – Internet World Stats:
Conclusion and

This report argues that, while millions of people around the world are
learning English, the UK has fallen behind by not devoting sufficient
time, resources and effort to language learning.

The resulting language deficit, if not         systems. The greatest gaps are perhaps         policy relating to languages and
tackled, is a threat to our competitiveness,   in Arabic and Mandarin Chinese, which          international skills, as these have a
influence and standing in the world,           both appear in the top five. However,          direct impact on the UK’s prosperity
as well as to our citizens’ ability to play    Portuguese and Turkish, also present           and international influence.
a meaningful role in the global economy        significant challenges for our education    3. Businesses should be encouraged
and an increasingly networked and              systems and Italian, Russian and               to invest in the development
interconnected world.                          Japanese also require increased effort         of the linguistic skills in their own
                                               to achieve a critical mass of speakers.        organisations from which they
Our analysis has identified those
languages which are likely to be of            The overall conclusion therefore,              will benefit directly.
greatest importance to the UK in               is not that people in the UK are            4. Policy makers should find effective
the next 10–20 years, based on a               learning the wrong languages, but              ways of utilising the vital language
range of criteria relating to both             that the country needs to build                and cultural skills of the UK’s diaspora
economic and non-economic factors.             on its existing language learning              and minority communities. This talent
Unsurprisingly, there is not a complete        profile to include a wider range               should be used to enable education
coincidence between the languages              of languages and to enable far                 systems to increase opportunities to
needed for economic purposes and               greater numbers of people to learn             learn the ten languages identified here.
those required to build trust, deepen          languages. This is crucial in order to      5. The teaching and learning of
international influence and cultural           prevent the current deficit in linguistic      languages should be enriched by
relationships, and keep our country            skills from increasing and to enable the       the inclusion of new languages in
safe. This analysis has identified ten         UK to reap the economic and cultural           the curriculum, and an increased
languages (Spanish, Arabic, French,            benefits available to those who have           focus on the need to understand
Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese,          more than one language at their disposal.      other cultures.
Italian, Turkish, Russian and Japanese)
                                               We therefore recommend that:                6. Schools should fully exploit the range
which have the potential to add most
                                               1. All four governments of the UK              of free or funded resources available
value to the UK’s strategic interests.
                                                  should take a more strategic                to support language learning, which
However, the survey commissioned by               approach to language education              are available locally, online or through
the British Council for this report shows         policy, linking it to national              international links. These include
that there is a low capacity in these key         aspirations for international               language assistants, exchanges
languages in the UK adult population.             engagement in business, education           and overseas trips, and international
                                                  and culture. Languages should be            cultural institutes in the UK.
French, Spanish and German, the
UK’s first, second and third most                 held in the same high regard as
widely taught languages respectively,             science, technology, engineering,
all appear in the top ten list, as do a           and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
number of languages which have very            2. Government and business should
little representation in UK education             work together to develop educational

                                                                                                   Languages for the Future  19
7. Young people should be given                     8. Policy makers and practitioners in     9. The 75 per cent of UK adults unable
   opportunities to sample a range of                  the UK should establish wider and         to hold a conversation in any of
   languages and cultures during their                 deeper partnerships and co-operation      the ten key languages should make
   school career. They and their                       with foreign education and cultural       efforts to learn the basics of at least
   parents should also seek out more                   bodies in order to access resources       one new language, as advocated
   opportunities for language learning                 and support as well as to learn from      by Speak to the Future’s 1000
   outside school, and all students                    best practice in the teaching and         Words campaign. 43
   should receive appropriate advice                   learning of languages directly from
   about the benefits of competence                    the countries in which the languages
   in another language for work and                    are used.
   adult life.


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