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Which languages were most popular with learners in 2021?

The well-known language-learning application Duolingo recently published its report on language learning trends around the world. Although at 1to1PROGRESS, we are not too fond of this type of application (we prefer our learners to have high quality, tailor-made language lessons), this study based on data from thousands of users gives a good overview of the languages most learned in the world last year. Is English still the leader? Has the pandemic changed the needs and wants of learners? Which languages are doing well and which are on the decline? A look at the findings of this report…

And the most learned language in 2021 is…


Unsurprisingly, it is the language of Shakespeare that remains well ahead. It is the most studied language in 120 of the 194 countries included in the Duolingo study. It tops the rankings in most countries in South America, Africa, Europe and Asia.

In second place is Spanish, which is the most widely learned language in the United States, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Norway. 

French comes in third place! It is the most popular language among Canadian and Australian learners. It also does well in many African countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Botswana and many others.

🔎  Further reading: Which are the easiest languages to learn?

Here’s the list of the top 10 languages most requested by learners of the Duolingo app in 2021:

  1. English
  2. Spanish
  3. French
  4. German
  5. Japanese
  6. Italian
  7. Korean
  8. Chinese
  9. Russian
  10. Portuguese

💡 Also read: How many languages are there in the world?

Asian languages are booming!

The fastest growing languages in terms of the number of learners in 2020 on Duolingo were 5 Asian languages:

  1. Hindi
  2. Korean
  3. Japanese
  4. Turkish
  5. Chinese

In 2021, the trend has continued and Japanese and Korean have become even more popular around the world.

For example, Korean is the 4th most studied language in Brazil and Japanese has just overtaken Welsh in the UK! Another interesting fact: there are now more people learning Korean than English in Mongolia. 

So, will Japanese and Korean make their way into the top 3 most learned languages in the world next year? Place your bets!

Reasons for learning a new language

Cultural interest

Only 7 different languages were among the most popular with learners in 2016. By 2021, the list has grown to 10. The reason? According to the study’s findings, app users are more interested in learning new languages out of cultural and personal interest. 

In other words, the choice of languages is not necessarily dictated by professional needs, but by societal trends. For example, the rise in popularity of Spanish or rarer languages such as Korean can be explained by the boom in television series such as La Casa de Papel or Squid Game.

A survey conducted by Duolingo shows that cultural interest is the most important motivating factor for people who have started learning Asian languages. On the other hand, only 10% of those learning the language of Molière did so out of curiosity about the French culture.

A strong need to reconnect with one’s roots

The health crisis and successive confinements have led to a need for learners to reconnect with their family and roots. Almost 70% of those who started learning a language during the pandemic did so for reasons related to their family heritage or cultural background.

The vast majority of these learners (94%) expressed an interest in learning the language of their ancestors, especially if it turned out to be an endangered language.

Since 2020, some languages have become popular with learners in the country where they are spoken:

  • Guaraní in Argentina;
  • Finnish in Finland;
  • Hawaiian and Navajo in the United States;
  • etc.

English, German, Portuguese, Italian… Which language would you like to learn with 1to1PROGRESS? Our educational team offers you a tailor-made programme and our native-speaking trainers will guide you as you progress. What’s more, all our language courses are eligible for the CPF!