Excuse Our French. It Seems We Really Should Be Speaking Arabic or Mandarin; FORMER MINISTER HITS OUT AT 'USELESS LANGUAGE'

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Byline: ALED BLAKE

LISTEN very carefully, 'e shall say zis only one once...French is a "useless" modern language.

It might not go down well with Francophile fans of cult sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!, but in a blast against the language - dismissed as "insulting" by opponents - Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has claimed that French is no longer an important economic language for children to learn.

Labour's Mr Bryant, now a Shadow Foreign Office minister, was advocating the import-ance of young people taking up languages to win business in today's global economy.

Mr Bryant told the Commons: "Unless we have sufficient numbers of people who speak modern foreign languages - and not just the useless modern foreign languages like French..." Amid Tory protests that this was "insulting" to the French, Mr Bryant, who was Minister for the EU before Labour lost power, said: "I've said this to the French. I think they realise there are problems."

He defended his remark, insisting that while French had been the "most useful language to use because it was the diplomatic language", things had changed over the past 30 to 40 years and now "it certainly isn't".

He said the most significant languages to speak now, aside from English, were Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic.

However Mr Bryant's comments were last night criticised as "ridiculous", with Wales already lagging behind European competitors in language learning. Ceri James, director of language centre Cilt Cymru, established by the Assembly Government to drum up interest in foreign languages in schools, said France remains a crucial economic partner.

Mr James admitted that the status of French has changed in recent times.

But he said: "It is still important.

Russian and the languages of the Indian sub-continent are growing in economic importance.

"But there is a list as long as your arm of such languages and French is far from being a useless language, it is one which is widely spoken around the world. …