The UK’s most important foreign language is not French or Arabic or even Mandarin Chinese… It’s Spanish! That’s the finding of a new report (‘Languages for the Future’) by the UK government’s educational and cultural institution the British Council.
To come up with the result, the council looked at a range of economic, political, cultural and educational indicators including which countries the UK is currently exporting to, where people are traveling, and future high growth markets. Spanish came out top in the analysis, with the top five of foreign languages being rounded out by Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese and German.
The Spanish language’s strong showing is partly to do with the fact that Spanish is the second most spoken native language in the world. The most common first language is Mandarin Chinese with 848 million speakers, while Spanish can boast of 406 million speakers. But Spanish is also key for British business with the language the fifth most widely spoken among the countries the UK exports to. High-growth markets including Argentina, Chile and Mexico are also making Spanish more important.
Spanish evening classes are the most popular in the UK and Spain is also the top overseas tourist destination of people from the UK (in 2012 Spain was the most popular destination for people from the UK with more than 11 million visitors).
According to 2011 figures from the Department for Education, there were more than 13,000 speakers of Spanish in English schools, making Spanish the 14th most commonly spoken language by schoolchildren with English as an additional language. There are, however, indications that these numbers are growing: the number of Spanish-speaking schoolchildren in London grew by 57 per cent in the period 1998 to 2008, according to CILT/Institute of Education.
Spanish is also now the second most popular language at A-level after French, having overtaken German in 2005. With more than 7,600 entries in 2013, it is the only major language to buck the trend of year on year decline. Spanish is offered at degree level by more than 70 universities across the whole of the UK and has seen fewer departmental closures than other languages.