Chris Bryant, the former Europe minister, has said French is a “useless” language.
Mr Bryant, who is gay, was accused of “insulting” the French, but said he had already raised the issue with the country.
Speaking to the House of Commons about young people learning languages, the shadow minister said: “Unless we have sufficient numbers of people who speak modern foreign languages – and not just the useless modern foreign languages like French …”
When Tory MPs said he was insulting the country, Mr Bryant replied: “I’ve said this to the French. I think they realise there are problems.”
He admitted French has traditionally been the most useful language for diplomacy, things had changed in the last 30 or 40 years and now “it certainly isn’t”.
Mr Bryant said he thought the best foreign languages to speak now were Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.
The Labour MP for the Rhondda became the first politician to have a civil partnership ceremony in Westminster this year.