The global pandemic changed our lives from one day to another. Moreover, the global lockdown restricted travelling and exploring new places and meeting people around the world. Nonetheless, it also offered many opportunities to take on new hobbies and use the time spent at home to explore and learn new things, in particular languages. During these months, language learning apps became even more popular and were widely used across the globe by diverse age groups. To analyse more precisely the impact of covid on language learning using apps, Dr Cindy Blanco, a senior learning scientist at Duolingo, revealed astounding facts and statistics of users of Duolingo before and after the impact of the global pandemic.
About Dr. Blanco and Duolingo
Dr Blanco is developing effective teaching products based on language learning research for Duolingo. She studied Linguistics and Spanish and further enhanced her abilities by applying for a PhD in Linguistics. Furthermore, her academic research focused on Language Acquisition including Bilingualism Phonetics. Moreover, Dr Blanco studied Language Learning in Infants, Children, and Adults. Due to her interest in bilingualism and experimental research, she participated in research projects at Duolingo.
The app has over 500 million learners around the world with over 40 million monthly active learners and 103 courses in 40 languages. Besides widely used and common languages such as French or Spanish, Duolingo is also committed to teaching some endangered or underrepresented languages such as Hawaiian or Irish. Their quantitative research has shown interesting patterns in the frequency of languages studied by users, the most frequent time of studying during the day, and the change of people’s language interests over time, especially during the COVID 19 pandemic.
Four Big Findings
During the first weeks and after the first lockdown in March and April 2020, the researchers recorded a huge spike in new users. Overnight 30 million new learners joined within those first six weeks. Dr. Blanco believes that language learning on an app is seasonal. There are fewer active learners during summer compared to New Year’s, where lots of people show enthusiasm for starting new trends, hobbies, or resolutions for the upcoming year.
Before the pandemic, early in the morning during the daily commute, they saw a spike in lessons, and during the mid-morning things would drop, and learners would be calm until the evening. People were more active during the week. However, when the lockdown started, we all lost our commutes and regular schedules. Each country closed down one after the other. Some countries at the same time, whereas others such as the UK, didn’t close their borders until one or two weeks later. As a result, people stopped having commutes in the early mornings, and therefore, most people were more active after dinner time or during the evening throughout the whole week.
Another big aspect that Dr Blanco revealed was, that English, Spanish, and French used to be the top favourite languages to study. However, data had shown that people are much more interested in studying a wider variety of languages, specifically Asian languages such as Japanese, Korean, Chinese as well as Turkish around the world. Surprisingly, the top five fastest-growing languages are all from Asia. The motives for such an increased interest in these languages are quite unclear. However, it is believed that it is related to culture and entertainment, whether that is music such as K-pop or Korean dramas, or the infamous anime in Japan. But it is a matter of fact that during the global pandemic, people became more interconnected due to innovative technologies and other apps, which increased the curiosity of language learners of more diverse languages.
In Austria, the top languages studied were English, Spanish, German, French, and Italian. After the lockdown, this pattern changed. With the start of the first lockdown, French became the most learned language in Austria. Dr Blanco hypothesizes that people who were studying German in Austria might have been tourists or people working temporarily within the country. Similar to the situation in Italy, Italian was the most studied language. However, as soon as the lockdown began, it dropped.
Motivations for Studying
The majority of people in Austria dedicate themselves to studying with Duolingo for educational purposes (21%) and for travel (20%). However, after the lockdown restricted travelling and leisure activities, brain training was the second-highest purpose and travel dropped to number three. Moreover, over a third of Austrians interact with the app in English followed by German, Arabic, Russian, and Spanish. Furthermore, Austria is placed fifth among the most dedicated countries for studying languages on the app.
Despite encountering difficult obstacles throughout the global pandemic and the lockdown, people were motivated to use this time as a chance to expand their capabilities and learn new languages. New technologies enable to connect people, allow learners to access new opportunities to acquire and expand their skills and knowledge, as well as explore different languages and cultures.
“Learning another language is like becoming another person.” – Haruki Murakami
Final words: SIETAR Austria and The Multilingual Garden would like to express their appreciation and gratitude to Dr Cindy Blanco for sharing her insights into language learning through Duolingo.
You can find further information about Dr Cindy Blanco at: https://sites.google.com/site/cynthiapblanco/home
Furthermore, we are grateful to Dr Karin Martin for leading The Multilingual Garden and continually acknowledging the value of multilingualism in our societies.
References and Sources:
YouTube Link to Expert Talk with Dr Cindy Blanco:
Information about The Multilingual Garden: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-multilingual-garden/?trk=ppro_cprof&originalSubdomain=at
Picture of Dr Cindy Blanco: https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/1439034317708087297/2ELESjoI_400x400.jpg