A new report suggests more needs to be done to encourage youngsters to learn foreign languages.
The Confederation of British Industry's (CBI) survey of language skills in the business world reveals nearly two-thirds of firms (65 per cent) say there is a need for foreign language skills - and this figure is likely to rise as companies look to gain ground in emerging markets.
Conducted with education publisher Pearson, the study shows 41 per cent of businesses believe knowledge of a foreign language can be beneficial to their firm, while 28 per cent think it can be helpful to build relations with overseas contacts.
French (50 per cent), German (49 per cent) and Spanish (44 per cent) were rated as the most useful languages, although those which have not traditionally been common in schools, such as Mandarin (31 per cent) and Arabic (23 per cent) are also rated highly, and their popularity has risen rapidly over the past three years.
Katja Hall, CBI deputy director-general, said: "It has been a worry to see foreign language study in our schools under pressure with one in five schools having a persistently low take-up of languages.
"Young people considering their future subject choices should be made more aware of the benefits to their careers that can come from studying a foreign language."
Ms Hall added that it has yet to be seen whether government initiatives to promote languages will lead to their resurgence.
The CBI says better foreign language skills could help to rebalance the economy away from consumption and towards trade and investment.
Mark Anderson, managing director of Pearson UK, said companies that are able to communicate well in the languages of clients, customers and suppliers can have a competitive advantage in growing markets.
Recently, the government announced a drive to encourage more children in state schools to learn Mandarin. Over 1,200 specialist teachers are to be trained in the subject to ensure pupils in state-funded institutions have the same opportunity to learn the tongue as their independent school counterparts.
Posted by Theo Foulds