English might be the most popular second language for people around the world to learn, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Which makes sense, right? We live in a society where people are constantly moving, and that often means relocation for jobs, remote working, communication with overseas clients, etc. There is definitely more than one reason to learn a tongue that is not your own, but which are the most popular second languages to learn and where are they popular?
The United States
Yes, although the US is perceived as a monolingual country with no interest in anything that is un-American, there are in fact a lot of Americans who do see the joy and benefits of learning other languages. According to the Modern Language Association (MLA), the most studied languages in the US are:
Perhaps it isn’t a surprise that English is the most popular second language to learn throughout Latin America, though it certainly isn’t the only one. In Brazil where the official language is Portuguese, Spanish is the second most popular to learn, and in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America either French or Portuguese is the second choice. Argentina stands out for choosing Italian as its preferred second language to learn, and this is thought to be due to mass immigration from Italy to Argentina during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Around 63% of Argentinians have a degree of Italian descent.
The most commonly taught languages in Australian schools are: Japanese, Italian, Indonesian, French, German, and Mandarin. Language learning is suffering a major decline in Australia, however: in the 1960s around 40% of all Year 12 students chose to study a second language, but today that number has dropped to only 10%. So whilst French, Spanish and Mandarin might typically be considered the most popular languages for Australians to learn, depending on which source you are looking at, Australian linguists will argue that Australia is suffering a major language learning crisis, and that not nearly enough people are interested in learning second languages at all.
Spanish is the only language in the UK that is consistently showing an increase in interest for students to learn. French and German, the other two common choices for secondary school students to choose from, have both seen sharp declines, with the argument that Spanish is seen as a more ‘global’ language and therefore more useful than either French or German.
Interest in Mandarin is also on the increase for UK language learners; it is the second most popular language online, and has the largest number of speakers worldwide, so it’s fair to say that demand for Mandarin is high.
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The language of a country might not actually be that which is spoken by the majority of the population, which means the native language also becomes the learned language. This is seen in places like India, where English is the official language when there are a wealth of other languages spoken by most people, and in Angola and Mozambique, where these former colonies of Portugal have Portuguese as their official language, yet most of the population speak Umbundu and Khee in Angola, and a number of Bantu languages in Mozambique.
Immigration has also seen a spike in native languages becoming popular ones to learn; with one in six Swedish residents born outside of Sweden, Swedish is commonly chosen for studying, with a similar story in Norway, and of course both America and the United Kingdom would argue their case for English being taught as a second language on their own doorsteps as well.
Okay, so it’s possible that some of the languages mentioned above are quite predictable. How about some popular languages you weren’t expecting?
German is a popular language to learn throughout Russia, Iran, Indonesia and also in Namibia, with its links to Germany in colonial times. Bangladesh chooses Spanish and French above English as its most popular language to learn—possibly to escape any ties with anything to do with England. And in another rejection of English, Guyana, with over one hundred years of British rule, opts to learn Portuguese or Spanish—though you could argue that this is because English is the official language of Guyana, and most are already proficient.
The range of second languages both taught and studied for fun (or professional reasons) across the globe is fascinating; we hope you have enjoyed this brief glimpse with us!