Language Learning Hits All-time High During Lockdown

Years from now when we look back on the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re going to reflect on the many ways our lives changed in 2020. One of the more interesting aspects will be how we filled the extra time we had due to lockdowns and quarantine. People turned to making sourdough bread, spending hours birding beyond their backyards, and binging movies on streaming services.

But did you know that millions of people started learning another language?

On the language learning app Duolingo alone, more than 30 million people attempted to learn a new language in the first three weeks of lockdown in 2020. Of these new learners, 40.5% were members of Generation Z. Interestingly, Turkish was the fastest growing language of interest in the U.S., but Spanish remained the most popular choice. Additionally, there was an 85% increase of language learning from 2019 for just 13- and 14-year-olds, with Japanese as the group’s most popular choice. New users cited brain stimulation, cultural interest, and family ties as their top motivating factors for picking a language. Globally, new signups on Duolingo grew by 108% in merely three weeks when the first lockdowns began. In this same period, U.S. users grew by 148%, representing millions of new Americans committing to learning a foreign language.

The fact that so many people, now that they have the time, value learning another language makes my heart soar. But it makes sense.

We’ve been isolated and we want to connect. Learning a language is about communicating and connecting with another person and another culture. It offers learners the opportunity to delve into another culture’s history, geography, current events, and even climate and environment. Studying another language takes us beyond our borders and into a rich world that beckons us, to explore it one day.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has stripped us of so much, it has also given us time to invest in activities we’ve wanted to do for so long, but didn’t have the time. According to a recent British Council survey on lockdown language-learning, for many adults in the UK, a lack of foreign language skills is a cause of regret: only 9% of respondents said that they had kept up with the language they learned in school, yet 64% wished they had. Learning another language helps to fill the void of interrupted professional or academic goals with focused, active progress that can be tracked against key milestones.

In addition to personal fulfillment, language skills are a definite plus to highlight on a resume. People who speak a second language are proven to think more creatively, have access to a greater variety of jobs, and are able to work successfully on diverse teams.

As the pandemic has shown us all to well, the world is a lot more interconnected than many of us may have believed. So if you’re interested in learning another language, do your research into various language learning apps, such as Duolingo, Memrise, Busuu, Babbel, and Rosetta Stone, and even online virtual language learning, such as that offered by Concordia Language Villages. Consider what’s best for you and set realistic goals. Language learning can be difficult and it takes time. But it’s well worth the effort.

If you’ve recently taken up learning a language, want to, or simply support language learning, join ACTFL’s Lead with Languages Advocacy in February with its #IHeartLanguages campaign.

2 Comments on “Language Learning Hits All-time High During Lockdown

  1. Thank you, Stacey, for this very important information. It is especially pertinent because we are descending on the Hill (virtually) with JNCL at the end of the week to lobby for continued support from our members of Congress.

    • Good luck and if there’s something I can do to support the initiative, let me know.

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