Friday 05 August 2016
  •         Almost 40 per cent of Britons don’t realise that Portuguese is the official language of the host-country of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games;
  •         More than one in ten of those surveyed were under the impression that Brazil’s official language was Brazilian while almost a fifth thought it was Spanish;
  •         Research has previously revealed that Portuguese is the sixth most important language for the UK’s future;
  •         The British Council is urging people to use Rio 2016 as an opportunity to ‘give Portuguese a go’.

As athletes across the globe get ready to give it their all in Rio, Britons are being urged to ‘give Portuguese a go’ as new research reveals that almost 40 per cent of the UK population don’t realise that it is the official language of this year’s Olympic and Paralympic host-country, Brazil.

Commissioned by the British Council - the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities – the new UK wide survey of over 2,000 people unveils that many Britons won’t be winning gold when it comes to their linguistic knowledge of Brazil. Almost a fifth of those surveyed (18 per cent) were under the impression that Spanish was the main language used in Brazil while more than one in ten (11 per cent) believed it to be Brazilian.

And while Portuguese isn’t as widely taught in the UK as more traditional languages such as French and Spanish1,  previous research has highlighted that it is in fact the sixth most important language for the UK’s future prosperity2 – with less than one per cent of the UK population currently able to speak it.  More than that, with only a small percentage of the Brazilian population able to speak English to a proficient level, those travelling to Rio to cheer on Team GB could end up lost in translation if they don’t choose to learn some words and phrases before going.

Commenting on the survey results, Mark Herbert, Head of Schools Programmes at the British Council, said: “Portuguese is a hugely important language for the UK both now and in the future. With the eyes of the world on Rio this summer, we have the perfect opportunity to learn more about this fascinating part of the world and to try out some Portuguese along the way. Ultimately having more of us being able to speak at least a little of a foreign language is good for the UK’s long–term competitiveness in the increasingly connected world.”

To help visitors and athletes travelling to Rio 2016, the British Council in Brazil has put together bilingual Visitor Handbooks which can be downloaded for free. The guides include some useful words and phrases as well as specialist vocabulary related to the Olympic and Paralympic sports. The British Council’s social media channels will also be sharing ways to cheer on teams in Portuguese throughout the Games.

The new survey was carried out by Populus among more than 2,000 UK adults and was commissioned by the British Council as part of its work to build relationships for the UK around the world through language, culture and education - and to advocate for the learning of modern foreign languages in the UK through its on-going #LearnALanguage drive. The #LearnALanguage campaign – which urges people across the UK to take on a new language in 2016 – includes a short video series on how to start a language learning journey as well as information on various educational opportunities and real-life global connections available for UK learners to understand other languages and cultures.

Notes to Editor

For more information, contact Kristen McNicoll in the British Council Press Office on 0207 389 4967 / 07765 898 738 or

Notes to Editors:

1) In 2015, 2,932 students took a GCSE in Portuguese in comparison to 168,402 students who took a French GCSE and 93,028 students who took a Spanish GCSE.

2) The British Council ‘Languages for the Future’ report identifies Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Japanese as the languages most vital to the UK over the next 20 years. They were chosen based on economic, geopolitical, cultural and educational factors including the needs of UK businesses, the UK’s overseas trade targets, diplomatic and security priorities, and prevalence on the internet.

Populus interviewed a random sample of 2,152 UK adults aged 18+ from its online panel between 13-14 July 2016. Surveys were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.  Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.  Further information at

More details about the British Council’s languages work are available at:

A short video series for people keen to start learning a language can be found here:


Twitter hashtag: #LearnALanguage

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides 16 per cent of our turnover which last year was £973 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, such as English classes and taking UK examinations, and also through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.


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