THE UK's future prosperity and global standing is in jeopardy because of the "alarming shortage" of people able to speak foreign languages, experts have warned.

A report by the British Council says the most important languages for the next 20 years will be Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Japanese.

However, an online poll of more than 4000 British adults commissioned by the organisation, which specialises in international educational and cultural opportunities, three quarters of adults are unable to speak any of these languages well enough to hold a conversation.

French is the most commonly spoken, with 15% saying they were fluent, against 6% for German, 4% for Spanish and 2% for Italian.

Arabic, Mandarin, Russian and Japanese are each spoken by 1% of those surveyed, with Portuguese and Turkish by less than 1%.

The report recommends everyone in the UK should learn the basics of at least one of the 10 languages and calls on businesses to invest in language training for staff.

The report also calls on policymakers to introduce a broader range of languages to schools and to give languages the same prominence as science, technology, engineering and maths.

John Worne, director of strategy at the British Council, said: "If we don't act to tackle this shortfall, we will lose out economically and culturally. Languages aren't just an academic issue - they are a practical route to opportunity in business, culture and all our lives."