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UK leads in use of language-learning apps

LANGUAGE-learning apps have boomed around the world during the coronavirus lockdowns, and the UK has surprisingly led the way.

US firm Duolingo says that its new user numbers soared in 2020, especially in the UK. Globally they were up 67% compared with 2019, while in the UK they shot up by 132%, almost double the worldwide average.

“The UK has really embraced language learning during the pandemic,” says Duolingo’s UK manager Colin Watkins.

“People are learning because of culture, brain training, family, and relationships, along with school and travel. We want a positive use of our time, and to do something productive on our phones. Covid gave people the stimulus to do this,” Watkins said.

Prior to Covid-19 he says the biggest reason British users said they wanted to learn a language was for travelling overseas. But with global travel mostly curtailed, people were now learning because of other factors.

For the app’s now 13 million UK users, Spanish remains the most popular language that people want to learn, followed by French.

Other language apps have also seen big growth.

London-based Busuu says that while its active global user numbers tripled last year, numbers in the UK rose more than fourfold (312%). It now has more than three million UK users.

Berlin-based Babbel says its UK user registrations increased by 80% in 2020, compared with a 50% rise worldwide. It now has 10 million customers globally but did not release a figure for the UK.

Spanish is now the most popular language for its UK users, overtaking French. And that the new top reason why people have signed up is an interest in language learning and other cultures, which has overtaken travel.

“It is possible that Brexit may have played a part in why the UK, in particular, saw so many people using these apps,” she says. “Particularly those who want to give themselves the opportunity to work in, or do business with, other countries now Britain has left the EU,” said Babbel’s chief executive Arne Schepker.