It's a toughie. Famously tongue-tied in foreign languages, and notwithstanding the 200+ languages widely spoken in London and Manchester alone, the fact is the UK needs more people speaking more languages.
The British Council's new Languages for the Future report looks at the 10 languages the UK needs the most in order to stay front and centre on the world stage over the next 20 years. So, which languages are they, why do we need them - and how many UK adults currently feel they can hold a conversation in them...
Spanish - like their football team - scores from all angles. Spoken throughout Latin America and widely in the USA too, it's important for current and future trade and in demand by UK businesses; a priority too for diplomacy and UK education opportunities and exports. It's also (obviously) spoken in many of our favourite travel destinations and prominent on the internet. There are Spanish speakers all over the world - and many don't speak English so well. So, as Speedy Gonzales used to say, 'arriba, arriba andale' for Spanish. (Only 4% of UK adults feel they can speak Spanish)
Arabic - the surprise runner-up. The fourth biggest language family in the world and spoken in many countries throughout North Africa, the Gulf and Asia. It is a big diplomatic, UK education and exports priority. Much in demand from UK businesses and increasingly important for UK trade, Arabic is well worth a look, especially as native Arabic speakers are less likely to speak English than many others. Less useful than Spanish for our favourite travel destinations, and some may find Arabic script tricky - but it's universal so, once mastered, you can read the signs anywhere Arabic is spoken. (1% feel they can speak Arabic)
French - still a top Romance language as well as the language of romance. Spoken widely in Europe and Africa, it is still the most sought-after language for UK employers, and also scores highly in terms of trade, travel and its prominence on the internet. Not so widely-used in the high-growth economies, and less of an education exports priority - mais Français is still très bienvenue chez nous. (the winner in familiarity, 15% feel they can speak French)
Mandarin Chinese - the 'Iron Rice Bowl': learn it and eat for life. A big trade and diplomatic priority, in big big demand among UK businesses - and important for trade and as the language of the ultimate high-growth economy. Not a top travel destination for Brits, but Chinese tourism into the UK grows every year, so definitely one for our hoteliers and hospitality industries... (1% feel they can speak Mandarin Chinese)
German. Vorsprung durch Deutsch. Despite widespread excellent English in Germany, German is in big demand for UK businesses - and good for UK trade and travel. It doesn't score so well as a language of high-growth markets, but it is Europe's top economy, so alles gut. (6% feel they can speak German)
Portuguese. Handy on both Atlantic coasts, the big reason to make Portuguese your GOL! GOL! GOL! is of course Brazil. An upcoming World Cup and Olympics connects the UK and Brazil, making Portuguese a diplomatic and trade priority. Businesses need it - but they say not as much as other languages. English is not widely spoken in Brazilian business, perhaps the reason why Portuguese is not so big in terms of current UK trade impact. (Less than 1% feel they can speak Portuguese)
Italian. La bella vita. Italian still scores in terms of travel, holidays and current trade - but isn't considered so important by UK businesses, in high-growth markets, diplomacy or education exports. It still sounds beautiful though. (2% feel they can speak Italian)
Russian. Dobrý den' - the language of a country the size of a continent, with vast natural resources and a culture of endless depth and fascination. A high-growth market, Russian is much sought-after by UK businesses. It's also prominent on the internet but harder for some, given Cyrillic script. Not a top destination for travel - but it should be, as there's so much to see and do. (1% feel they can speak Russian)
Turkish. The historic cross-roads of East and West, the cradle of world civilisation and the origin of a crescent of Turkic languages which stretch all the way to China. Turkish is also the language of a high-growth market which is a real priority for UK government in terms of trade, diplomacy, regional security and education opportunities. (Less than 1% feel they can speak Turkish)
Last but not least, Japanese takes a bow as sought-after by UK businesses and, with so many Japanese businesses long term investors in the UK, it's important for trade, banking and finance. With new Olympic ties - Tokyo 2020 following London 2012 - there are opportunities aplenty for more trade, tourism and travel. (1% feel they can speak Japanese)
And let's not forget...
Indian languages - of which there are a number - so no single one scored enough points to make the top ten. English is widely spoken in Indian business and the UK has a good many speakers of Indian languages.
Polish - a great language for the UK's future but, again, the UK has a good stock of Polish speakers.
Welsh and Gaelic - culturally central at home but this study looked overseas.
You can read the Languages for the Future report at http://www.britishcouncil.org/organisation/publications