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From Hindi to Korean, a global language-learning trend that grew word by word

Millions of people started learning a new language in 2020. But which ones were most in demand and where can you learn them?

The world took to Asian languages in 2020, with Hindi topping the list, ahead of Korean, Japanese, Turkish and Chinese.
The world took to Asian languages in 2020, with Hindi topping the list, ahead of Korean, Japanese, Turkish and Chinese. ((Photo credit: iStock))

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Language learners had a busy time last year. According to the 2020 Duolingo Language Report released in December, 30 million people around the world took up a new language on the language education platform’s app and website in the weeks after covid-19 lockdowns.

English remained one of the most popular choices globally as people invested their time in learning everything from job-relevant skills to exploring their personal passions. “A lot of working professionals were trying to upskill themselves. Language was an obvious choice, especially English. We saw housewives, other working professionals and even school students learning across languages,” says Anuradha Agarwal, founder and CEO, Multibhashi, a Bengaluru-based language learning platform.

Agarwal adds that it was also the year the platform started monetising. “Earlier, we were not even focusing on paying customers. We were a free solution. But at the beginning of 2020, we definitely saw a surge in demand,” she says.

Similar trends were visible elsewhere. Coursera, the massive open online course platform, saw a record number of enrolments. Since March 2020, it has seen more than 69 million enrolments—an approximate 430% increase over the same period in 2019, explains Betty Vandenbosch, Coursera’s chief content officer, in an official blog.

Apart from art and humanities and social sciences, language learning courses saw a “dramatic increase” in enrolments compared to 2019, she writes.

English found learners in India through different use cases. “English for Career Development” from the University of Pennsylvania and “Writing Professional Emails in English” from the Georgia Institute of Technology were two of the most popular courses in India last year.

The world also took to Asian languages, with Hindi topping the list, ahead of Korean, Japanese, Turkish and Chinese, the Duolingo report notes. These five languages were the fastest growing around the world; Indians were at the forefront when it came to learning Korean.

“Hindi was very popular for us as well,” says Agarwal on the phone. “Of the 10% users we have outside India, most are NRIs and they want their children to connect to their roots by learning Hindi,” explains Agarwal, who started Multibhashi in 2016. Today, Multibhashi has close to 1.6 million registered users on its Android and web apps, which offer over 15 foreign languages and 20 Indian languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Marathi.

“I would say users in every segment of language learning have a different motivation. For teenagers in India, learning Korean has become a trend. Users who are learning an Indian language, like Kannada, are doing it because they have either migrated to a new place or still want to connect with their roots,” says Agarwal.

“Some of the users who learn English, an evergreen language, do it because it’s important for their career. For someone like me, who speaks six languages, learning a new language means connecting to a different culture,” the 35-year-old adds.

Where can you learn a new language? Here’s a look at four apps:


With over 40 million monthly active users and a total of 500 million users, Duolingo is one of the best language-learning apps around. With the help of a gamification model and bite-sized lessons, Duolingo teaches English and 30 other languages for free. You can also practise listening and speaking skills on the app.

Available on Android and iOS

Hello English

Designed by the Jaipur-based company CultureAlley, Hello English helps you learn spoken English and grammar, as the name suggests, using your native language. You can choose from 22 Indian and foreign languages—be it Hindi, Marathi, Chinese or Spanish—to get started. The app has more than 475 interactive lessons based on conversational English, which can be accessed offline too. There’s also an audio dictionary, apart from the other gamification features.

Available on Android and iOS


This Indian app offers live learning sessions, including one-on-one or group classes, on its Android and web platforms. You can choose from a host of Indian languages, such as Marathi, Gujarati and Kannada, or opt for languages such as German and Korean. Learning on Multibhashi is fun thanks to its personalised chatbot trainer “Fifi”.

Available on Android


You can learn more than 20 languages on Memrise, which uses video clips from native and local speakers to teach you a new language—be it Norwegian, Korean or Japanese. It has a host of “practice games” that are excellent for self-coaching. You can even practise and record conversational phrases on the app to see if your pronunciation is correct. Memrise also lets you download your language course in case you want to continue learning offline.

Available on Android and iOS

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