Japanese is UK’s fastest growing language, Duolingo research shows

Duolingo’s 2021 Language Report has seen Japanese take first place as the UK’s fastest growing language, with culture as the main motivator for the spike.

Japanese has overtaken Welsh as the UK’s fastest-growing language in 2021, reveals research conducted by Duolingo. 

Today, the world’s number one education app published its Language Report for this year, citing culture as the main driver for the top spot. 

The annual review provides extensive insight into global language trends. This year’s edition drew on data from over 500 million downloads of the app worldwide, with 20 million of those coming from the UK.  

Research included: 

  • Spanish remained the UK’s most popular language, followed by French, German, English and Italian. 
  • Korean, Russian and Chinese all showed significant increases in new learners. 
  • Family and culture have both grown as important motivators for learning a new language within the UK, while travel fell as an influential factor. 
  • Work remained the least important motivation in the UK. 
  • Over 18% of new learners studying Japanese are motivated by culture compared with just 8% of English learners. 
  • The winner of Duolingo’s ‘most 2021 phrase’ went to: “I’m mentally exhausted”. 

Cultural motivators

Globally, the most popular language on Duolingo is English, with Japanese coming in at fifth place and sixth place in the UK alone. 

Korean also saw a significant increase, now ranking as the fourth fastest growing language in the UK. 

The popularity of Asian languages indicates a growing interest for passions such as anime, manga and K-pop. Duolingo took a deeper dive into the impact of culture on language learning to supplement its annual report. 

Over a quarter of Brits (26%) have been influenced to teach themselves a new language from key cultural moments such as the Tokyo Olympics and Euro 2020. 

In the week after Måneskin won Eurovision Duolingo reported a 56% increase in Italian learning, while the UEFA Euro 2020 final launched a spike of learners racing to catch up on their coaching during half-time. 

Cult TV shows have also been to blame, with Netflix’s Emily in Paris, Lupin and Squid Game sparking inspiration. When the hit show launched in September of this year, Duolingo saw a 76% increase in users learning Korean.  

A third of those surveyed (36%) said they had chosen to watch TV in another language, with another 42% attributing social media engagement in another language to their understanding of a different culture.  

Colin Watkins, UK country manager at Duolingo, said the interest in Asian culture points to a fundamental change in learner motivations and a real shift in what the UK wants to learn: “I predict we’ll see Japanese and Korean increase even more in popularity next year.” 

Language schooling soars

The report showed that in 2021, over 700 million hours were spent learning on Duolingo with nearly 10 billion lessons completed and 15 billion words learned. 

Duolingo also revealed that 25 million people worldwide were learning more than one language. 

The app has introduced a new Year in Review function to provide its extensive list of learners with a deep dive into their own personal learning behaviours, matching other end-of-year software reviews such as the Spotify Wrapped campaign. 

To further mark the end of a gruelling year, the most 2021 phrase of “I’m mentally exhausted” has been selected by Duolingo due to the draining treadmill of lockdowns, ever-changing government guidelines and delayed office returns. 

The phrase has even been printed on a range of merchandise from the educational app.


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