Why to learn French for the post-Brexit world?

European leaders tell us: ‘English is losing importance.’ So which language should students learn to give themselves the best chance of success?

Brits are pretty settled in our role as monoglots. Our default tactic of “speak English slowly and loudly so others can understand you” served us well enough – and then Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission, put the boot in by claiming recently that “English is losing importance.”

Is this really the case? Experts are divided.

Post-Brexit, only two EU countries (Ireland and Malta) will have English as their official language. Despite this, it’s unlikely to lose its importance, according to Tony Thorne, language consultant at King’s College London.

“English is the global lingua franca – not just in terms of the number of speakers, but because of its soft power and global reach,” he says. “It’s the language of the internet, fashion and the entertainment industry.”

But could the tide be turning? Perhaps, says Katrin Kohl, professor of German at the University of Oxford. “Juncker’s not joking,” she says. “With Britain no longer a central part of Europe, it might be time to resurrect other languages and give them higher status.”

Perhaps the new state of affairs in the EU might even be enough to start reversing the decline in language courses studied at UK universities.


The French would love it if we all started learning their language. They firmly believe it has an unrivalled cachet in elite circles.

But how important is it really? “In the EU bureaucracy, French is still very important; and it is also important in certain regions – west Africa for example,” says Peter Skrandies, language co-ordinator at the London School of Economics.

Simon Coffey, senior lecturer in language education at King’s College London, thinks there are lots of reasons for Brits to learn French properly. Given that motivations for learning a language include its usefulness and prestige, he says, “French scores highly on all counts, and continues to be the second-most taught language in the world”.

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