Murdo Fraser, convener of Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, said he is frustrated that his children are only taught French in primary school when it is “a very minor language”.
“Nobody in the world speaks French,” he said at the committee today.
“Well, apart from the French, obviously, but in terms of international trade French is a very minor language.
“I mean, surely we should be teaching Spanish or Arabic or Mandarin or even German - a far wider international reach than French does.”
Garry Clark, head of policy and research at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, pointed out that the language is also useful in a number of French islands around the world.
He said schoolchildren should also be taught foreign cultural conventions such as where to sit when meeting Chinese contacts and how to present a business card.
“I think Spanish is becoming, if not the norm, certainly more common these days and it is on offer at a far wider range of schools and obviously into primary schools as well now,” he said.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
“I think there are two areas there. I think it is useful to develop a knowledge of a language that will be of use in business, and if you’re going to be doing business in France or a number of French islands across the world you will find French useful.
“But, clearly, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin, etc, are going to be far more directly useful.
“So, I think there is certainly a case to say that it would be useful to focus on those languages.
“That said, I do think that there is nonetheless, whatever language it is that is spoken, going alongside learning any foreign language is that developing understanding of cultures that are different from our own.
“I think that is possibly as important as the language skills themselves, particularly in developing business relationships across the world.
“We have met with a number of Chinese delegations and knowing where to sit in the room, knowing what to have on the table and knowing to hand your business card over with both hands is culturally as useful to know as language skills themselves.”
Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “I am tempted to suggest we invite the French consulate to a future evidence session before we finish the inquiry.”
SNP MSP Chic Brodie said: “There’s a great book called Mind Your Manners, which explains cultural differences which one ought to read when one is exporting to a whole range of countries.”