Languages for the Future - little girl writing in front of international flags


British Council’s report, Languages for the Future, identifies the priority languages for the UK’s future prosperity, security and influence in the world, and of course the languages are of importance to Wales too.

The report considers the outlook for the supply and demand for language competence in the years ahead and looks at the linguistic dimension of a variety of economic, geopolitical, cultural and educational factors, scoring languages against these. 

The report says the top five most important languages are:

1. Spanish

Spanish is the second most widely spoken first language in the world with approximately 437 million native speakers.


2. Mandarin

Chinese refers to a group of languages with collectively over 1,200 million native speakers. Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua), the language with official status in China, Taiwan and Singapore, is ranked first in the world with nearly 900 million speakers, mostly in China. 

3. French

French is spoken by more than 76 million people as their first language, and a further 100–200 million people around the world are estimated to speak French as a second language.  

4. Arabic

With over 230 million native speakers and a further 100–200 million people across northern Africa and western Asia for whom it is their second language, Arabic ranks as the fourth most widely spoken language in the world.

5. German

German is in first place in terms of numbers of native speakers in the European Union with 24 per cent of the EU’s population giving German as their first language.

The top five languages appear some way ahead of the next five: 

•  Italian

•  Dutch

•  Portuguese

•  Japanese 

•  Russian

Languages for the Future argues that, in a new era of cooperation with Europe and with the rest of the world, investment in upgrading the UK’s ability to understand and engage with people internationally is critical.

Jenny Scott, director of British Council Wales: “In the uncertain context set by Brexit, one thing is clear, Wales will need a network of international economic and cultural connections if it is to build influence and remain competitive. This outward-looking, global Wales can only be realised if we have people with the right language and inter-cultural skills to build relationships across borders.”

Language Trends Wales

Since 2015, British Council Wales has been monitoring the number of entries for GCSEs and A-levels in Modern Foreign Languages in Wales. Our Language Trends Wales reports have shown a continual decline in the learning of French, German and Spanish in Welsh secondary schools.

See also