Language learners in Latin America are incredibly diverse in terms of their motivations, ages, and the languages they choose to study. While this region is defined as the countries in the Americas that speak Spanish and Portuguese, the people in this enormous, varied region also speak indigenous languages like Guarani, Afro-Latino and Afro-Indigenous languages, and creole languages. Even when considering only the Spanish-speaking countries in the region—of which there are many!—there may be more differences than similarities in the latest language-learning trends.
For this report, we investigated learning patterns across Spanish-speaking Latin America to better understand what Duolingo learners in this part of the world are studying and why. We focused on Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru during a six-month period from late 2021 to early 2022 to highlight the diversity of Spanish-speaking learners in the Americas, and we included Brazil (where Portuguese is spoken) and Puerto Rico (a Spanish-speaking unincorporated territory of the U.S.) for comparisons.
Read on to learn:
- Which country has the most learners under 30?
- Where is studying English the most popular?
- What surprising language is among the most popular in Mexico?
- Where is Japanese more popular than Korean?
English is the #1 language to study across Latin America
English is the most popular language to study in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America. However, there is considerable variation in the dominance of English in different countries. In some places, like Colombia and Mexico, nearly 3 of every 4 learners choose to study English, but the language interests of learners in other countries are more varied. This is especially true in places with high English proficiency, like Puerto Rico—after all, the two official languages of Puerto Rico are Spanish and English!
|% of Duolingo learners studying English|
Cultural and geographical factors influence language learning
After English, French is one of the most popular languages studied by people in Latin America. It's also common for countries to study the language of their neighbors; for example, the latest findings show that Spanish is #2 in Brazil, and Portuguese is #3 in Colombia.
The languages learners prefer to study are also closely linked with the unique histories and cultures of each region. Argentina, unlike its neighbors and other countries in the region, is especially interested in studying Italian, likely due to significant immigration from Italy to Argentina beginning in the late 19th century.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Spanish has become one of the most popular languages to study in two places: Mexico and Puerto Rico. The growing interest in Spanish in these countries indicates the dramatic return of tourism after more than two years of travel restrictions and COVID precautions. The growth of remote work is also likely influencing interest in studying Spanish, with the workforce enjoying more flexibility in where they live and fostering interest in studying the language of the community.
|2nd most popular language||3rd most popular language||4th most popular language|
Young learners lead the way, with Argentina as an exception
Younger generations are especially excited about learning new languages, and they've also been quick to adopt technology like Duolingo to support their learning. In Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, 2 out of every 3 learners are younger than 30.
But older learners are studying languages as well—in Argentina and Puerto Rico, learners under 30 may be the majority on Duolingo, but their parents and grandparents are studying languages in significant numbers. Argentina has an especially large population of older learners, with 20% of language learners age 50 or over. In fact, in Argentina, there are more learners over 60 than there are learners in their 50s—a pattern not seen elsewhere in the region!
Language interests vary by generation, especially for Italian
Culture and geography aren't the only factors influences what languages learners prefer to study: different generations also have distinct preferences when it comes to learning a new language.
In Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Peru:
- older learners are more interested in Italian than younger learners
- younger learners are more interested in French
But in Argentina:
- Italian is the second most popular language to study across all ages
- French is the third most popular language for learners 13-22 and 50+
- Portuguese is the preferred language to study for learners 22-49, likely for economic and career reasons
Language study preferences in Mexico and Puerto Rico are especially interesting and quite unlike their neighbors in the region.
In Mexico, differences in each generation's preferences demonstrate that Mexico is a destination especially popular among remote workers and retirees. French is the second most popular language to study in Mexico for learners under 50, while Spanish rises to the #2 spot for learners 50 and over. The growth of Spanish learners in Mexico suggests retirees from abroad may have returned to vacation and retirement homes after leaving Mexico at the start of the pandemic. Spanish also occupies the #3 place in the ranking for learners 30-49; learners in this age group are likely resuming travel to Mexico and even making the country their homebase for remote work.
Young Puerto Ricans are more interested in studying Japanese than any other demographic in the region. For learners 13-22, Japanese is ranked #3, behind only English and French. Japanese is the fifth most popular language to study on the island, and the preference for Japanese over Korean is unique in Latin America (however, it's the pattern we see in the U.S.!.
Countries are divided between studying for leisure or necessity
Typically, studying a language for school is the most common motivation for learners in Latin America, but after that, we see a division: there are the countries where learners study for travel reasons, and there are other countries where studying a language is a matter of necessity, and learners study for work reasons:
- In Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, work is the second most important reason to learn a new language.
- In Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, travel is the #2 motivator.
Unlike its neighbors in the region, Puerto Rican learners are equally divided between studying for travel (17%) or work (17%).
For many, learning a new language is crucial to gaining access to economic opportunities, and this is even more important in the current labor market: With the possibility of remote work, people are no longer competing for jobs only with people in their own communities, but rather with people across the region and the world.
The importance of travel for language learners also indicates a rebound after the first years of the pandemic, when travel plummeted as a reason to study languages.
Ukrainian and Korean are among the fastest growing languages in the region
This year, Ukrainian has been the fastest growing language to study in Latin America. The number of learners studying Ukrainian grew 577% worldwide in the weeks following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with people studying the language to show solidarity with Ukrainians and in many cases to support Ukrainian refugees. In Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, the growth of Ukrainian has happened alongside a plateau in the number of learners of Russian, with the decline in Russian learners most pronounced in Mexico.
Korean also continues to show strong growth throughout the region, continuing a years-long trend seen in Latin America as well as globally. While Korean is among the fastest-growing languages in many countries, it's growing popularity in Argentina is especially notable: it's reached #2 for fastest-growing languages (behind only Ukrainian).
The future of language learning in Latin America
Duolingo learners in Latin America are thinking about culture, current events, self improvement, and a future filled with travel—and each country's interests grow and change in response to world and local events. Here are some learning trends we'll be watching:
- Will learners in Latin America be studying Arabic ahead of the World Cup in Qatar? In 2016, Duolingo learners in South America were studying Portuguese after the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Will we see the same boost for Arabic learners?
- Will other countries also begin learning for travel? Is the travel vs. necessity distinction in learning motivations here to stay, or will other countries also study more for travel as the pandemic evolves?
- How long will Korean's incredible rise in the region continue? Korean has been growing consistently and impressively in Latin America for years! Can its popularity continue growing?
- Will Gen Z learners become more alike over time? Latin American learners show a lot of diverse trends, including by generation. As Gen Z's influence in media and pop culture grows, will their linguistic interests also unite behind a couple of languages?
We'll report back what we learn, right here on the Duolingo Blog!