Duolingo is out with its 2023 ranking of the languages people like to study and how much effort they devoted to picking up another language. The good news for Japan: its soft power remains firmly in place. But one country may knock it down the list in the next year or two.
We’re number 5 (and have some tough competition)!
This week, Duolingo Japan announced the report, which builds off of its parent company’s report and adds additional statistics related to in-country language studying habits.
The top line: Japanese remains one of the most popular languages for worldwide study in 2023. Japanese took fifth place behind English, Spanish, French, and German.
Hot on Japanese’s heels, though, is a rowdy upstart: Korean. The language knocked Italian out of the 6th place spot, showing how interest in K-Pop and Korean dramas has persuaded more people to pick it up.
Duolingo also ran some numbers specifically on who’s studying Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. For people in the US, Japanese was the fourth most popular language to study. India also studies all three languages intensely, with the languages all making it into the country’s top eight. Interest in learning Korean in India has exploded by 75% year-over-year.
Duolingo also said that Japanese language learners are the most serious. They spent more time as a group learning their second language than did those studying Chinese or Korean.
Japanese and Korean language learners are also young. 86% of those studying Japanese are 30 or younger. Meanwhile, over 70% of those studying Korean are ages 13 to 22.
The biggest change? Russian dropped out of the top 10, replaced by Portuguese. Duolingo speculates this is due both to the War on Ukraine plus a growing global interest in both Brazil and Portugal as travel destinations.
Japan loves English (but doesn’t rate itself highly)
Duolingo Japan also ran some numbers to understand what languages Japan itself is studying. Not surprisingly, English is the most popular language in Japan, reflecting its importance (for better or worse) as a global lingua franca. Korean came in number 2, showing the continued influence of Korean popular culture throughout Asia. Chinese and French came in 3rd and 4th, with Spanish and German tying for 5th place.
While English may be popular, few people say they have confidence in their English language abilities. 86.5% rank themselves as “beginners”. Only 10.7% of learners said they feel confident or somewhat confident speaking English.
In terms of prefectures, Tokyoites are more likely to be confident in their English skills, with 20% claiming that distinction. Kanagawa Prefecture came next at 19%, with Kyoto and Osaka both tying at 15%.
Japan has taken steps to revise how it approaches English education, putting more of an emphasis on listening and production as opposed to rote memorization. The results have been mixed. We reported earlier this year how 63.1% of kids failed the revised 2023 English exam.
There also doesn’t appear to be much interest in studying a language in Japan unless you’re forced to. Of those in Japan studying a foreign language with Duolingo, only around 15.6% of those say they’re doing so out of their own curiosity. (However, 15.5% say they want to learn one.) Fukuoka Prefecture contains the most self-motivated learners at 26%.
Japan’s hard studiers slacking off?
Japan did lose a little ground in its foreign language cred this year as measured by one metric. Last year, the country ranked #1 in terms of “enthusiasm” for studying.
This year, it dropped to number 2. Belarus stole its thunder to rank in the number one spot, with Hungary and Russia following close behind.
The fifth most enthusiastic group of language learners? Ukrainians. Given the unrelenting war and the possibility of more people seeking refugee status in the near future, that’s both sad as well as understandable. In a plus for the country, however, 37% of new language learners say they’re studying Ukrainian. That’s considerably higher than any other language: English only captures 17% of new learners.
Popular for tourism, media, and more
The enduring popularity of Japanese isn’t surprising, given what we’re seeing on the tourist side. Tourism to Japan from abroad officially exceeded the levels it had previously hit in 2019 this year. And tourists are spending more than they ever have in Japan.
Along with its rich history, beautiful architecture, and reputation for food, Japan also remains a worldwide “soft power” leader. Anime and manga are still climbing in popularity worldwide. Films like Demon Slayer: Mugen Train and the most recent Slam Dunk movie continue to bring in big numbers outside of Japan. The recent domination of the North American box office by two Japanese films – Studio Ghibli director Miyazaki Hayao’s The Boy and the Heron and Godzilla Minus One – is another sign of this continued strength.
2023 Duolingo Language Report. Duolingo Blog
【Duolingo Language Report 2023】世界5億人のユーザーと各都道府県100人に聞いた年次調査発表日本語人気は5位と安定、日本語学習者の86%が30歳以下とZ世代に人気. Duolingo via PRTimes
Special report: Which countries are most interested in Asian languages? Duolingo Blog