- British Council survey reveals more than a quarter (26%) of UK adults regret never learning another language fluently.
- One in four want to speak Spanish and would consider making language learning a New Year’s Resolution.
- London has the highest proportion of people who can already speak more than one foreign language to a high standard.
- French and Italian remain popular choices.
New research commissioned by the British Council surveyed 3,000 UK adults on their language learning ability, interests and habits ahead of the New Year.
The poll asked questions about the languages people would most like to learn.
One in four respondents (26%) said they regret never making the effort or finding the time to speak another language fluently, while 24% believed it was important now more than ever for people in the UK to learn a language other than English.
When asked what their language of choice would be, a quarter (25%) of respondents chose Spanish. The next most popular was French at 21%, followed by Italian at 14%, German at 13% and Japanese at 10%.
A majority of respondents thought French was the most important language for people in the UK to learn (35%), followed by Spanish (34%) and German (19%).
The growing popularity of Spanish in the UK reflects the British Council’s Language Trends 2022 report which found it has become the most popular A-level language in England and is likely to overtake French as the most popular language at GCSE by 2026.
Meanwhile, a significantly larger proportion of younger respondents viewed Mandarin Chinese as an important language for people in the UK to learn than other age groups. A quarter (25%) of 18-24-year-olds selected the language in this category compared to just 13% of people aged 35-44.
Spanish, French and Chinese are three of the five top priority languages to improve the UK’s skills, security and influence around the world, according to the British Council’s Languages for the future report.
The biggest appetite for language learning was among 18-24-year-olds with 37% saying they have always wanted the ability to speak another language.
Vicky Gough, British Council Schools adviser, said:
“Our survey clearly highlights the appetite for language learning in the UK across a broad range of regions and age groups.
“It is interesting to discover that a quarter of UK adults regret never learning a new language and believe it’s more important now than ever before to learn a language other than English.
“As currently only around half of pupils are choosing to study a language at GCSE, it’s important that teachers and parents encourage all pupils to consider choosing languages, so they don’t face the same regrets in the future.”
The figures also show language learning is of interest across a broad spectrum of age groups for a range of reasons. When asked what the primary motivation to learn a new language would be, around a quarter of respondents in each sample age group selected the option “to challenge and exercise my brain”.
This highlights a public awareness that being bilingual may help combat the effects of ageing, with some studies suggesting it may help protect against dementia.
Most respondents said they would use mobile apps to learn a new language (39%), though the number of people who selected this option shrank as the age group increased. The second most popular choice was evening classes at 35%.
The biggest proportion of people who said they could already speak a foreign language to a high standard were based in London (22%). The regions scoring lowest in this category were Southeast England, East Anglia and East Midlands (10%).