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Pandemic sees spike in global demand for languages

Tom Cox- Preply

In this extraordinary moment in human history, language learning is not just proving more popular, but more essential for businesses to grow.

Remote work is democratizing opportunities across the globe. People can now work for a company seas apart, and from their own bedroom. Spotify became one of the most recent companies to hit the news after adopting a ‘work from anywhere’ approach, in what has been the biggest shift in working conditions in modern history.

As internationalization ramps up, accelerated by events like COVID-19, language skills are growing in demand. Multilingualism opens up more opportunities for professionals, as businesses access broader markets. Businesses rely on intercultural communication to form international partnerships, to serve customers overseas, and to help their employees progress.

Global demand for languages keeps growing
Simply put, if you know multiple languages, your skills are in demand. In 2019, The Language Educator found that almost one in four U.S. employers acknowledged that they had either lost — or been unable to pursue — business opportunities, because their workforce lacked foreign language skills.

A multilingual, diverse workforce can help businesses close the gap between current customers and potential clients. The same Language Educator report researched how U.S. businesses needed multilingual employees to stay competitive. Nine out of ten employers said that they rely on their workforce to have language skills other than English. The majority (56%) also felt that the foreign language needs have increased over the past 5 years, and will continue to do so.

Essential services such as healthcare, professional services, and construction predict that they will rely more heavily on multilingual professionals for years to come.

It’s not just U.S. businesses who are feeling a language deficit. All the way back in 2014, a CBI/Pearson Education survey found an alarming shortage in foreign language speakers in the UK. The report argued that languages were likely to continue to grow in importance “as ambitious firms look to break into new, fast-growing markets”.

Since then, the British Academy estimated that the cost of the U.K.’s lack of languages was 3.5% of the country’s GDP. Because of that, the Academy states that language learning is vital to the pandemic recovery.

With increasingly internationalized businesses and the rising need for languages, the number of apps, platforms and online resources grew with it. And when COVID-19 lockdowns began in March 2020, the amount of people looking to learn a language through these tools exploded.

How COVID-19 changed language learning
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen regular human interaction sacrificed to the need for social distancing. Paradoxically, more people than ever are connecting with a new language.

Language learning apps like Duolingo witnessed an increase of new global users by 67% in 2020 compared with 2019. The U.K., a country renowned for monolingualism, has seen a 132% increase in new users, almost double the worldwide average.

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