No ? Of them ? ? How many languages did you learn during the lockdown?
The first year of the pandemic was a annus horribilis for language teachers. Schools closed, exchange trips abroad have been canceled, language meetings closed.
To add insult to injury, a cartel of national academies said language learning was already damn (among English speakers, at least). “To work together, the peoples of the world must be able to talk to each other and be understood,” they lamented.
But something strange happened. Language learning exploded. Armed with a language learning app and their favorite foreign language Netflix show, the fired of the world have become self-taught.
Learning to speak a foreign language when airports were closed may seem like locomotive. But learning a new language gives you a taste of another culture, keeps your brain active and healthy, and helps you think and see differently. Plus, of course, you might have been dreaming about your first post-containment vacation. Google searches for “vacation 2021” rose 124% in April 2020, even as Duolingo subscriptions jumped 300%.
WordTips was curious which nationalities chose which languages during the lockdown. We used Google’s keyword planner to find the number of searches for “learn X language ‘(translated into different languages) in each country from May 2020 to May 2021. And we have mapped the most popular language to learn in the world.
- English is the most popular language learn in 98 countries.
- Japanese is very popular in the English speaking world – it is the most popular language to learn in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
- Ukraine is the country most interested in the local language, with 25.94 annual searches per 1,000 Internet users for Ukrainian.
- Arabic is the most popular language to learn in 12 countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Maldives, Niger, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
Spanish and English learners dominate North America. People in half of these territories are the most likely to search for Spanish courses online. It may seem odd that Spanish-speaking countries in North America have high search rates, but let’s take the example of Guatemala: Spanish is the official language, but over a million Guatemalans speak one of the 24 local indigenous languages.
The main language in the United States and Canada can also come as a surprise. Japanese is booming thanks to Japan’s rich anime and manga export culture. Today’s adults grew up on it, so they already have a taste for Japanese arts. Their children are gorging themselves right now and are getting curious about a trip to Asia. China’s economy may be heavier than Japan’s, but both make good bets for the prospects of employability – and many still view Japan as a safer destination.
In six of South America’s 12 sovereign states, the primary language to be learned at home is English. But in Argentina, Italian dominates. Almost two-thirds of Argentines are of Italian descent and many know each other as “tanos” – the local Lunfardo slang for “Italians”. The Argentine Spanish brand is called Castellano due to its roots in Castile, Spain, but it has developed an Italian sound over the years.
More than one in a thousand Peruvian internet users searched for Korean courses last year, and Korean was also the first language to learn in Chile. Despite being far away and having superficially different cultures, Korean pop music has become important in Latin America. The K-Pop genre has underlying similarities to Latin music, but offers a fresh, more innocent take on popular themes.
The search for linguistic studies is more intense in the east of Europe than in the west. Ukraine has the highest search rate in the world for its native language. The majority of Ukrainians speak it as their mother tongue, but Russian was the dominant language during Soviet times and is still the most common in some areas. Russian-speaking Ukrainians may feel the need to learn the language as tensions with Russia continue, especially as the language has become a burning cultural issue in Ukraine.
Russia also has a high search rate for language learning, although the most popular choice is English. Western Europeans tend to study English or Spanish. However, Portuguese is the first choice language to learn in Sweden. Portugal is a popular vacation home and retirement destination for many wealthy Scandinavians who are desperate for sunlight in winter.
Middle East and Central Asia
This region is also divided between learners of English and Arabic. Arabic is the official language of all the countries where it is studied the most in this region. However, there are large expat communities and minority cultures in many Arab countries, as well as regional variations in the language that can lead locals to study Arabic.
English may be the lingua franca of the business world, but fluency in English is relatively low in Arab societies. However, the English language is an asset for unemployed people in the Middle East, whether they intend to migrate for work or apply locally. A study found that employees with strong English skills earn up to 200% more in Iraq than others.
Rest of Asia and Oceania
The Hindi language made its only appearance in our study for this region. The British forcibly displaced over 60,000 Indians to Fiji as legitimized slavery between 1879 and 1916. By the end of World War II, Indo-Fijians were the majority population on the islands, although today ‘ they are in the minority. Most Indo-Fijians speak Fijian Hindi, but there is a minor fundamentalist movement to replace it with Standard Hindi in some contexts.
Japanese is the most popular language to learn in Australia and New Zealand. The Asian country is a neighbor of these countries, and they have strong cultural and economic ties, with significant immigration between them. Australian schools typically teach Japanese, fostering cooperation and employment opportunities in business, diplomacy, and tourism.
Africa is the only continent with countries that want to learn French more than any other language. African countries seeking French courses include a former French colony (Algeria) and a protectorate (Morocco) as well as Botswana, Kenya and Zambia.
Egyptians mainly speak one of the various unofficial Arabic dialects. However, there are differences between Egyptian Arabic and “literary” or modern Standard Arabic, which is used in most print media and for international affairs. Internet users looking for Arabic lessons in Egypt may be locals looking for a more formal education or immigrants learning the native or official language.
The second most searched language courses in all countries
Of course, it should not be assumed that the most sought-after language to learn in each country is representative of the nation as a whole. Open it to the second most popular language search and the image expands. For example, French only appears in Africa as the most popular search, but is also sought after in Canada, Portugal, and Bosnia, among others, as an alternative language to learn.
This map also reveals the popularity of Polish, Indonesian, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese, none of which appeared in the first set of maps. The Taiwanese government is campaigning to encourage immigrants to teach their mother tongue (heritage) to their children. There are over 80,000 children with dual Vietnamese-Taiwanese citizenship in Taiwan, and schools have been teaching Vietnamese since 2018.
Tongue is a powerful tool in fixing much of what has gone through the coronavirus pandemic. Learning a new language can facilitate communication, understanding and cooperation; it can boost cognition, make you more employable, and improve business prospects all around.
Plus, languages are fun, fascinating, and a gateway to new cultures. Think about all those Foreign Language Scrabble tournaments you could win!
Methodology and sources
We have compiled a list of the 50 Most Spoken Languages based on our previous article “The 100 Most Spoken Languages in the World”.
Then we translated the following sentences into 119 languages:
- [Language Name] language (eg “English language”);
- To study [Language Name] (eg “Study English”);
- To learn [Language Name] (for example “Learn English”)
Next, we used Ahrefs to identify the monthly Google search volumes for those phrases translated into one of the country’s official or widely used languages. Next, we summarized the monthly phrase search volumes and discovered the two most popular languages in each country.
Finally, we enriched our data with the number of Internet users and calculated the number of annual searches per 1000 Internet users.
The data was collected in May 2021.
This article first appeared on Wordtips.