Arabic more important than French for the UK

France may be its nearest neighbour, but for the UK the most important language for the future is not French, according to a new report by the British Council this week, that highlighted the ongoing inability of most Britons to master a foreign language.

Arabic more important than French for the UK
Time to crack the books, it would seem. Three quarters of British adults cannot converse in a foreign language, and Arabic is now more important in the UK than French. Photo: Tim Green

France may be still be the most popular foreign language to learn in Britain but according to a new report by the British Council (below), it is no longer the most important.

That mantle is taken by Spanish.

French has been pushed into third place, perhaps surprisingly by Arabic, but comes in ahead of German (5th) and Mandarin Chinese in 4th.

The rankings were worked out by looking at a number of indicators from business and economics to the interests of the public, as well as cultural, educational and diplomacy factors.

When all the indicators were combined, French finished on a score of 47, a long way behind Spanish on 76 and Arabic on 54.

While 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 reason Arabic came in second had much to do with business and diplomacy.

“Arabic has emerged as one of the priority languages for the Foreign  and Commonwealth Office. It is their intention to increase the number  of diplomats trained in Arabic by 40 percent,” the report concluded.

"Six Arabic speaking countries appear  among the UK’s top 50 export market  in goods, with a combined value to  the economy of over £12 billion in  2012 – more than the value of UK  exports to Spain, China or Italy," The British council notes.
However it might be an important language but there's a long way to go before Britons are speaking are bragging about how good their Arabic is – currently only percent of the population can hold a conversation in the language.
Despite French being third most important, it continues to be the language that most people in Britain attempt to master, although unsurprisingly only a small percentage appear to succeed.

As a whole, the stats to do not paint a flattering picture of the linguistic abilities of British people, with 75 percent of the UK’s adult population unable to hold any kind of conversation in a foreign language.

A measly 15 percent say they can hold a conversation in French, six percent are able to have a chat with a German, four percent would be able to engage with a Spaniard and two percent would hold their own on a trip to Rome.

VIDEO: The world leaders who mastered French

French, however, remains the most popular language to learn in the UK. Although the numbers of students opting to read a degree in French is declining, it remains the most popular language to study at A-level and Scottish Highers.

And at primary school level, 74 percent of schools offer pupils tuition in French.

Despite the rising importance of Chinese, Arabic and Spanish, the British Council has not written off the importance of French, especially in terms of tourism.

“French is extremely important for both inward and outward tourism as France is the second most popular destination for people from the UK travelling abroad and the UK’s biggest market for incoming tourists (3.8 million visits in  2012, spending £1.5 billion) with Belgium also in the top ten with more than one million incoming visitors,” the report concluded.

The British Council also notes that French is an official language of many international organisations including the United Nations and the WTO and it’s also important in the world of work.

And cutural and ucational organisation pointed out that French “is the most sought after by those employers looking for language skills (49 percent). It was also the second most frequently requested language in a survey of job advertisements carried out in 2012."

A survey carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce of its members in 2012 revealed that: “French is the most commonly spoken language, but only four percent of business-owners surveyed claim that they are able to converse fluently enough to conduct business deals.”

So what does the British Council recommend to improve the embarrassing fact that 75 percent of British people cannot have a conversation in another language?

Well, for a start they have called on the government and business leaders to get their heads together to come up with an educational policy.

Businesses should also invest in language learning, and schools should introduce new languages to the curriculum, according to the British Council.

And in the final conclusion of the report, and one that will strike a chord with many expats in France,  UK adults have been told to make more of an effort to learn a language.

So for those struggling to learn French, here's ten top tips our readers. (click on the image below)

Ten free and easy ways to learn French

Read the British Council report "Languages for the Future" in full, here.

Languages for the Future – British Council by TheLocalFrance

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‘Sac iconique’: France unveils French shopping terms to replace English versions

A commission that seeks to act as a guardian of the French language has published a string of recommendations for translations of shopping and style terms, to replace widely-used English ones.

'Sac iconique': France unveils French shopping terms to replace English versions

Perhaps inspired by this month’s Paris Fashion Week, the non-binding recommendations from the Commission for Enrichment of the French Language were published in Wednesday’s Official Journal.

Instead of an “it-bag” — defined as “a handbag in the latest fashion or that stands for a brand” — ministries and businesses are encouraged to write “sac iconique“.

An “it-boy” or “it-girl” can now safely be described as an “icone de la mode” and a “must-have” transforms into an “incontournable“, while “try before you buy” becomes “essayer-acheter”.

There are also more baffling business terms that may be unfamiliar to many native English speakers, like “digital native vertical brand” (“marque integree nee en ligne“).

Set up in 2015, the Commission for Enrichment of the French Language aims to “provide French vocabulary appropriate to the need for communication that is clear and accessible to the greatest number of people”, it said in the introduction to its 2021 annual report.

Led by a member of the Academie Francaise — founded in 1635 under King Louis XIII to guard “pure” French — the Commission says it “recalls to a broad audience the importance of having and using French vocabulary so as to keep our language functional”.

Given the dominance of English in global business and technology, its terms are the most frequently targeted for translation into the language of Moliere.

“These days there’s no invention, innovation or discovery that doesn’t have its corresponding term, increasingly often in English,” the Commission said in its report.

“The flow of new concepts that must be defined and named in French is therefore continuous.”

The report cited fields including hydrogen power, the Covid-19 pandemic and malicious digital activities as recent areas to which  its 20-odd expert groups have turned their attention.