Tens of millions of Americans started learning a new language online during the pandemic — and now we know why.
Nearly two thirds (63%) of those who used the lockdown to learn a language in 2020 did so in preparation for 2021 travel, according to a recent survey of over 1,000 American users of Babbel, the popular language learning app and e-learning platform.
Since March 2020, the two top language courses on Babbel have been different dialects of Spanish. In the number one spot is a brand new course that Babbel launched in April 2020 for Latin American Spanish, the dialect spoken in Mexico as well as in Central and South America.
The second most popular language course on Babbel is the Spanish you would hear in Spain. The biggest difference between the two dialects is simply pronunciation — much like some words in English are pronounced differently in America than in England, Ireland or Australia.
The popularity of Spanish among American language learners is nothing new. “While we’ve seen an overall increase in the number of people taking up language learning throughout the pandemic, our most popular languages have stayed steady,” said Julie Hansen, CEO of Babbel USA. “Close to two-thirds of Babbel’s learners in the US study Spanish, the language spoken by our closest neighbors and approximately 12% of the US population. Spanish has been the most studied language in the US for more than 50 years.”
Rounding out the top five are three European languages. “The steady popularity of French, German, and Italian language courses suggests that many grounded travelers are still dreaming of those big trips to the European continent when travel is allowed,” said Hansen.
Interestingly, Babbel is seeing that some languages are enjoying a pop of interest in specific U.S. geographic areas. “Our state-by-state data shows that there are interesting pockets of language-learning happening around the country since the pandemic,” said Hansen. “We’ve seen a big uptick in people learning Russian in Delaware for example, a state with a significant Russian immigrant community. North Dakota, a state with a city named Lisbon, has seen an increase in people taking up Portuguese.”
“There’s also been an increase in German learners in both Mississippi and Maine — but the latter, like its geographic neighbor Vermont, still has double the national average French learners on a percentage basis,” said Hansen. That makes perfect sense, given those states’ proximity to the French-speaking province of Québec, Canada.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to discourage U.S. citizens from traveling — even those who are fully vaccinated — nearly 100 countries have reopened to U.S. tourists and more are expected to do so in the coming months.
In the meantime, many Americans are looking forward to showing off a newly used skill when they finally get to travel — hopefully later this year.
“There’s no doubt, and the data backs it up, that wanderlust is playing a huge part in getting people through restrictions and lockdowns,” said Hansen.