Brexit has given urgency to the UK’s quest to be a major international trading partner beyond Europe, while at the same time highlighting the importance of our continuing connection with our European neighbours. Among the skills and capabilities the UK will need an understanding of other cultures and languages will continue to be important for successful international relationships at all levels.

English will lose importance on the long run

Both within and beyond Europe, we will need to reach out beyond English, not only to maintain and improve our economic position but to build trust, deepen international influence and cultural relationships, and to keep our country safe.

But which languages do we need most?

This report looks at the linguistic dimension of the far-reaching changes which are under way and at the outlook for the supply and demand for language competence in the years ahead. The languages of crucial importance for the UK’s future prosperity, security and influence in the world are Spanish, Mandarin, French, Arabic and German. In the second half of the table are Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese and Russian. Both Russian and Portuguese have declined in importance since our earlier analysis, and Turkish has dropped out of the top ten to be replaced by Dutch. These movements are caused by changes in the economic and political circumstances in Russia, Turkey and Brazil and are not related to Brexit.

Ranking of most important languages

1 Spanish
2 Mandarin
3 French
4 Arabic
5 German
6 Italian
7 Dutch
8 Portuguese
9 Japanese
10 Russian

Other languages which scored highly and may well grow in importance in future include Polish, Malay, Hindi and
other Indian languages.

English are the worst with languages in the UE

With only just over one in three Britons reporting that they are able to hold a conversation in another language,
the UK’s language capability remains a concern. Language provision in many schools and universities looks increasingly vulnerable, opportunities to learn languages in vocational pathways are very scarce, and some of the
languages we are likely to need most in future have only a marginal place in our education systems. The UK’s already limited language capability could be further eroded by increased difficulties in recruiting native-speaker linguists from abroad once we leave the EU.

We have now reached a critical juncture where investment in upgrading the UK’s language skills, which give unparalleled access to cultural knowledge and understanding, will pay important dividends. This task will involve
individuals, businesses and employers as well as the four UK governments.