Op-Ed

What Are the Most Popular Languages in 2022?

By Veselina Dzhingarova
January 12, 2023

Veselina Dzhingarova is a contributing writer to eLearning Inside. She graduated from the Paisii Hilendarski University of Plovdiv with majors in Russian and English Philology. She is the Co-Founder of the spiritual health site DZHINGAROV

Anyone who has ever picked up a new hobby knows that they need to consider three factors. Let’s say you want to learn woodworking. You must have space for all of the equipment. You must have the materials and tools. And you have to consider your new passion’s price tag.

Practically any avocation depends on those three elements. Even learning how to play a musical instrument entails having a place to play (so you don’t disturb everyone), the instrument to play with/on and the money to afford it.

From this perspective, language learning is an outlier. Particularly nowadays, with so many materials, applications and platforms free but for a sign-up. You don’t need to block off a physical space exclusively for studying a new tongue. You don’t have to store any materials and, because so much is available at no charge, you don’t need a lot of money to pursue your interest in languages.

Maybe that’s why language learning surged worldwide during the pandemic lockdowns. The use of language apps soared during those first few months of isolation and the trend hasn’t stopped. What languages was everybody learning in 2022?

The Three Most-Studied Languages

It should go without saying that Engish topped the list of most-studied languages. Our native tongue is the language of business, aviation and science, particularly technology. Most non-English speaking countries include English studies in their core curriculum. So, English as a Second Language tops every language learning trends list for 2022.

That Mandarin comes in second should be no surprise. Mainland China’s tongue has been one of the top-three-studied languages for at least a decade and looks set to keep its place. Maybe the cause is Chinese cultural elements like Lunar New Year celebrations being more mainstream. Or perhaps it’s because of China’s strong economic presence around the world.

Spanish remains a popular choice – and for good reason. More than 20 countries list Spanish as their official language; over half a billion people speak Spanish around the world. The wealth of learning materials online might have influenced learners’ decisions to choose Spanish. Cultural exports might have driven the trend, too. Who could resist a sultry canción or an original-language Almodóvar production?

A Shift in the Order

Historically, French and German have vied for third and fourth place. It’s easy to understand why. Not so long ago, German was the language of science. That country’s engineers are still revered for their precision machinery and technological advances. As for French… Well, you just weren’t cultured if you couldn’t speak French!

It’s no longer the case that those two languages lead the learning horde. Over the past two decades, one country’s cultural exports have prompted quiet but steady inroads into western European language dominance. And over the past three years, that language has exploded onto the stage.

Korean has taken over the Number 3 spot. Thanks to shows like Squid Game, films such as Parasite and music from the likes of BTS and Blackpink, more people than ever are riding the Korean (Hallyu) Wave.

This year, French edged German out to claim the fourth spot on the ‘Languages to Learn’ list. This tongue is a bit easier for native English speakers to master because nearly one-third of their English vocabulary comes from French. It is the official language in 29 countries. Finding French lessons is easy, too. Indeed, French may be one of the world’s most accessible languages.

By contrast, German and English share a root language. That and the aforementioned qualities keep the Language of Goethe high on learners’ lists. And the fact that Germany is the European economic powerhouse. A fair number of English speakers have relocated to Germany for its generous entrepreneurial initiatives as well as its progressive social climate.

Rounding Out the Top Ten

Language learners seeking a challenge settled their caps on Japanese this year. Japanese grammar is complex and the writing system blends three ‘alphabets’ into one language. It’s not just otaku – people enraptured with anime and manga who are mastering kanji, hiragana and katakana, though. Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world; most of its systems were designed and built by native companies. Any tech engineer would gladly learn this language for the chance to work on a Japanese-led project.

Most of the five Romance languages feature among the top languages learned; Italian is no exception. And why not? Italy has a lot going for it. All of the religious and heritage sites, sure. But also this little-known fact: Italy is the 11th-largest global economy.

It might surprise some how widely Portuguese is spoken around the world. Not just in Brazil and Portugal – each with its own version of the language, but also in some African countries.

Romanian is the only Romance language not to feature in the Top Ten list of 2022 languages studied. But it would be easy enough to learn alongside Portuguese, French or Spanish. Or you could follow other savvy language learners’ leads and study one of the two languages newly on the list.

It’s not hard to understand why more people chose to study Arabic and Hindi this year. The US has long declared Arabic a language of strategic importance. Considering the economic powerhouse East Asia is and its role in shaping world events, you may say that assessment is an understatement.

Arabic is spoken in 27 countries but each nation has its own version of the language. However, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) will get you by in all of them. And if you have your sights set on a specific country, you can find learning materials for that dialect.

India is a rising economic powerhouse so learning Hindi is a good move, too. Besides, Hindi is the third most-spoken language worldwide. Whether you want to explore opportunities in Singapore, Nepal or India herself, learning this language might be easier than you think.

Featured image: annatodica, iStock. 

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