So there is an app called Duolingo that is apparently one of the most popular language-learning services in the world. (I’ve heard of it but never knew much about it, let alone tried it.) With about 120 million users worldwide learning one of nineteen different languages, it seems to offer a pretty good sample size for determining which of the world’s languages are most popular to learn. That said, the company crunched numbers and discovered the following:
As is always the case with this sort of research, there are some caveats. As Quartz reports:
English is far and away the most dominant, with a caveat: For some learners, English is the only language Duolingo offers with translation into their native tongue. English is the only course available to Thai speakers, for example. That doesn’t change the fact of universal interest in English, though, which Duolingo notes is studied by 53% of its users.
English’s lead is unsurprising, given that it is the current lingua franca for today’s globalized world (due in no small part to the extensive legacy of the British Empire, and the political, economic, and cultural dominance of the United States).
However, there are plenty of other languages that come close; here are the the second most popular foreign languages in the world (again, at least among Duolingo users).
Unsurprisingly, French ranks as the most popular choice after English, which reflects both its longer history as the lingua franca — indeed, it was part of the original lingua franca from which the term derives — and, like English, its extensive geographical presence due to colonialism and prior cultural prominence.
The popularity of Spanish, German, and Portuguese similarly reflects the historical political, colonial, and economic power of the nations from which they originated. (Although the German language is somewhat of an exception, as it has grown less because of colonialism — which was a relatively minor and more short-lived venture — and more because of the country’s economic might; however, Namibia, in southwestern Africa, is a minor exception, as it was once a German colony.)
As for why Swedish is the most popular language in Sweden, that has more to do with the fact that the country is one-sixth immigrant, many of whom are new arrivals seeking to integrate.