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Language learning trends of 2021

Last year, thanks to a global pandemic and seemingly-endless lockdowns, many people picked up new hobbies to pass the time – including learning a new language.

In fact, this activity was one of the most popular, with over 30 million people around the world downloading the Duolingo app in the weeks following the outbreak of Covid-19. The reasons for this ranged from keeping up with schoolwork to wanting to connect with people from the other side of the world.

So, as we learned to adapt to the “new normal” in 2021, how did our language learning habits change? As the most popular app of its kind, Duolingo has reported that its users spent over 700 million hours learning this year, with nearly 10 billion lessons completed.

But who’s learning what? And what are the reasons behind these language learning trends? We take a look…

Most popular languages learnt

Duolingo has reported a staggering 120 million learners who utilise the app to learn one of the 40 languages it offers. With such a huge amount of users and a whole wealth of language courses to choose from, which languages are learners turning to?

Top 5 languages learnt on Duolingo globally

  1. English
  2. Spanish
  3. French
  4. German
  5. Japanese

The top spot being awarded to English comes as no surprise – after all, it is the most widely spoken language in the world. Spanish, French, and German also seem like strong choices for those wanting to learn a new language, each with millions of speakers worldwide.

The interesting thing to note in this top five, however, is the increasing interest in Japanese. Many countries around the world have seen an increase in the amount of people excited to learn Asian languages, with Korean also seeing a rise in popularity and earning the number seven spot in Duolingo’s top ten.

In 2020, Japanese and Korean were some of the most popular languages to learn in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, but this reach has spread even further this year. They hit the top spots in five extra countries, and Japanese has been named the fastest-growing language in the UK, beating out Welsh for the crown.

So what is it that’s driving these trends? What happened in 2021 that made us want to start learning new languages, and why specifically Asian ones?

How and why people chose to study

In a survey conducted by Duolingo, over two thirds of respondents claimed that a “cultural event” would inspire them to try to pick up a new language. This shouldn’t be too much of a shock, considering 2021 had its fair share of big cultural moments.

For example, following Italy’s Eurovision victory with rock band Måneskin, Duolingo saw a 56% increase in people learning Italian. The UEFA Euro 2020 tournament also inspired learners, with the coming together of countries in sport encouraging a spike in users catching up on their lessons.

It would also be silly to ignore the influence of TikTok (arguably the biggest trend in pop culture right now) on the world of language learning. 29% of those surveyed said that seeing TikToks in other languages served as motivation, with this number rocketing to 40% amongst Gen-Z.

And it’s not just the TikToks we watch that inspire us on our journey to become bilingual. Some of the biggest shows released this year have spurred us on to learn a new language. When the record-breaking Netflix hit Squid Game was released back in September, Duolingo saw a 76% increase in those wanting to learn Korean. Suddenly the growing popularity of learning Asian languages is less of a mystery, right?

Another of Netflix’s biggest hits, Money Heist, also inspired viewers to start a Spanish course, and Emily in Paris helped drive an increase in those wanting to study French.

The fact that, in 2021, we tuned in to more foreign language content and got inspired this way, could be due to the fact that Covid continued to disrupt our travel plans. With international travel pretty much off the table, learners are thinking less about languages to use on the road, and more about the ones that would connect them to family, friends, and different cultures.

In fact, family and culture have been named as the two main motivators for UK learners, with travel falling even further down the list. As our travel plans remain restricted, we think less about the languages that would be most practical for us to learn, and more about the ones that would be best for personal, cultural, and entertainment reasons.

So, perhaps this is why we’re seeing more of a range of languages being learnt, with different countries becoming excited by the prospect of learning something new and perhaps slightly out of the ordinary. But how can we expect this to change in 2022?

Predictions for 2022

If we’ve learnt anything over the past two years, it’s that you can’t predict what will happen over the coming 365 days.

So, although we can’t say for certain how the language learning world is set to change, what we can be sure of is that the interest in learning Asian languages won’t be going anywhere. As we can expect to see more and more foreign language content on our screens, especially from places like Japan and Korea, we can also expect to see these shows continue to serve as language learning inspiration.

As well as this, the world’s growing interest in K-pop and other forms of Japanese and Korean entertainment will contribute to the increasing interest in studying Asian languages.

As we continue to reframe language study as a hobby, instead of a chore, it will be interesting to see how these trends evolve in 2022.

How can we help?

As more learners cite culture and communication as motivation for studying a new language, we can see how language can help bridge the gaps between people and places. Although the pandemic has lessened the need for language learning for the reason of travel, it’s clear that Covid has inspired learners in different ways.

As we look ahead to 2022, we’re excited to see how we all continue to learn languages, and how we’ll use these skills to connect with people from all around the world.

Here at Matinée, we are passionate about global communications, and our expert services help individuals and businesses to bridge language barriers and connect with audiences from every corner of the globe.

Whether it’s a foreign voiceover you need for your next social media video, or a set of multilingual subtitles for your newest ad, we’re here to help you. We’ve got over 30 years’ experience in the industry, and over 80 languages available to help you engage and connect with your chosen audience, no matter where they are in the world.

Why not get in touch with our expert team today to find out how we can help you?

Call us on +44 (0) 118 958 4934

Or email project@matinee.co.uk