One in five (21%) adults in the UK are planning to learn a language in 2018, with Spanish being the most popular choice amongst potential learners according to a poll commissioned by the British Council.
Of the 2,109 respondents questioned by Populus in December 2017, 64% said they had always wanted to speak another language fluently.
Spanish (21%), French (10%), Italian (7%), German (5%) and Japanese (3%) made up the top five most desirable languages for budding linguists to learn this year.
More than half (56%) of respondents said they regret never making the effort to speak another language fluently, while one in three (32%) pledged to put in the effort to learn some key phrases of another language in 2018.
45% of those surveyed said they were “embarrassed” by the level of their foreign language skills.
While 58% agreed it was more important than ever for people in the UK to learn another language, just 16% said they could speak a foreign language to a high standard and 33% stated they could hold a basic conversation in a one.
A quarter (25%) said they will be encouraging their children to learn at least some of another language in 2018, with Mandarin Chinese predicted to become one of the most popular foreign languages learned in UK schools.
Last November, a British Council report identified Spanish, followed by Mandarin, French, Arabic and German, as the most important language for people living in the UK to master as Brexit approaches.
The report called for “a bold new policy” to improve foreign language learning, and suggested that languages be given the same priority as maths and science in schools.
Commenting on the results, schools adviser at the British Council Vicky Gough said: “It’s fantastic that many of us hope to brush up on our language skills in 2018. In particular, the languages we are most keen to learn are some of the languages the UK needs most.”
However, Gough added that the country is still facing a languages deficit.
“If we are to remain globally competitive post-Brexit, we need more people who can speak languages,” she said.
The British Council’s call comes as the uptake of languages in schools faces a challenging time.
Official figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications highlight a 7.3% drop in the number of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland taking GCSE language exams in the past year, and a 1% drop at A Level.
Scottish Qualification Authority figures indicate that the situation is similar in Scotland with significant drops in French and German uptake in the past year.
The UK’s current lack of language skills is said to be holding back the country’s international trade performance at a cost of almost £50 billion a year.
“Learning other languages not only gives you an understanding of other cultures but is good for business, for life and for wellbeing too,” Gough added.
“The New Year is the perfect time to get started.”