What are the most studied languages in the world?

Here we’ll take a trip to find out the most studied languages in the world. And yes, I said “studied“. While it’s good to know which languages are the most spoken throughout the world, this doesn’t truly show us which ones that lure the most people, or how we know which ones are taught worldwide. So read ahead as we unveil the big shots below.

This being said, to complete this article, I invite you to let us know which language/s you are learning at the end of the article in the comments section.

Last Updated: 15/06/2016

The Most Studied Languages in the World

What are the most studied languages in the world?

There are tons of articles and studies that name the most spoken languages in the world. Even we’ve played our part by showing you the most spoken languages in the world and the runners up.

But what are the most studied languages?

Well, it’s hard to answer this question since so few people are interested in it. On the other hand, it’s easier to define the most spoken langues as opposed to the most studied languages. An Italian study* from 19 renowned universities has helped define this question. The results?

  1. English holds number one. Big surprise there, right?
  2. French
  3. Spanish
  4. Italian
  5. Chinese
  6. Japanese
  7. German

If I only had one comment to make, I’d daresay that European languages have the upper hand. But when it comes down to it, their culture is the main reason people learn them around the world. Truly understanding a country’s culture happens through learning its language and reading its most famous authors (or even their greatest cookbooks).

And what are the most studied languages in America?

Of course when it comes to the United States, we aren’t known for our strong language learning skills. However, our schools offer plenty of opportunities (and even requirements in some states) for students to learn another language. Although most elementary students learn Spanish before anything else, middle, high school and university students can choose which language they learn. So what did they choose to learn? 

Spanish is by far the most studied language is the United States, whether in high school or college. According to the Modern Language Association (MLA), the most studied languages in United States colleges and universities are**:

  1. Spanish is the most studied language in the US, with 50% of college students choosing to learn Spanish.
  2. French is next at just over 12%
  3. American Sign Language is studied by 7% of students
  4. German is studied by 5%
  5. Italian is next at just over 4%
  6. Chinese is at 3.9%
  7. Arabic is steadily growing, at 2.1% in 2013
  8. Latin, at 1.7%, is still taught in most US universities
  9. Russian was chosen by 1.4% percent of students
  10. Ancient Greek, at less than 1%, comes in last place, followed by Ancient Hebrew, Portuguese, Korean and Modern Hebrew, respectively

In primary and secondary schools , the results are more or less the same with one difference — most high schools in the United States do not offer Italian. Instead, Latin takes its place. Below are results for K-12***:

  1. Spanish: Whether it’s due to the students’ interest, their parents’ choice or the school’s offerings, Spanish is by far the most studied language in the US, with over 70% of K-12 students choosing this language
  2. French is next up, at 15%
  3. German at less than 5%
  4. Latin, surprisingly, finds itself next at 2%
  5. Japanese is next with less than 1%
  6. And Chinese is last. However, more and more schools are offering Chinese, so expect to see this number rise in the next few years.

And you: what language/s are you currently learning? (Thanks to MosaLingua or otherwise of course.)

*Source for worldwide figures: Italian, the fourth most studied language. 2014

**Source for US K-12: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 2011

***Source for colleges: Modern Language Association. 2013

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Comments

  1. The results of the most studied languages in America are always going to be skewed since most schools put very limited resources in language programs and, as expected, will offer only the most “useful” or relevant languages. For example, Spanish and French are virtually always offered at the high school level and often starting in middle school (at least when I was in middle school in the 1990s). A lot of schools have German as an option once students reach high school, but in recent years, as schools continue to make poor financial decisions, language programs get cut often and German is dropped from the curriculum leaving students with only Spanish & French.

    In very large cities, such as New York, schools are more likely to offer “exotic” languages like Chinese (Mandarin) or Japanese at the high school level, but that doesn’t seem to be very common in my experience.

    I live in Columbus, OH and we have a surprisingly diverse population, with lots of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and various African nations being represented, but our schools still mostly only offer Spanish, French and maybe German (to be fair we also have a lot of Spanish speaking residents). Since Columbus has a particularly high percentage of Somalians, I think it would be kind of cool if schools would adapt their language programs to offer locally relevant languages since it would be easier for the students to apply their studies to the real world. For example, in the areas where Columbus has a lot of Somalian immigrants, schools could offer Somali as a language and it would be something that the students could then use to talk to their neighbors and friends, rather than learning French when so few people in Columbus speak French (I’ve lived here since 2009 and have only ever heard French spoken once, but I’ve met dozens of Somalis around town). Now, to be fair, finding someone qualified to teach a language like Somali would be much more difficult and perhaps people wouldn’t be interested since it isn’t a popular international language. But the possibility of practical application could make it more appealing around here, just as Chinese / Japanese might be found in other cities with a very large Chinese / Japanese immigrant populations.

    **Side note: German was removed from the curriculum at a lot of schools decades ago during / after WWII and hasn’t ever completely recovered in the public school system. It’s still one of the 3 most common foreign languages in middle / high schools, but not nearly as common as French & Spanish.

    • Israel Polasak says:

      My school, in New York, only offers Spanish to us, however, if you’re chinese who can already read and write full essays, they have chinese class for you, for everyone else it’s just Spanish. I personally think it is unfair….

  2. There are way more native speakers of Portuguese in the world..much more than french italian German and even japoneses. So why is portuguese not on your website as very important? Italian should not even be on this list.

    In addition to the 10 countries (former portuguese colonies) there are perhaps 265 million portuguese speakers in the worlld. And there are millions of portuguee 2nd or 3rd language speakers in countries such as: China, japan, India, Senegal, zairre, south africa, Argentina, Uruguay, paraguay, colombia – the USA as well.

    There is denying that there is a great demand to learn portuguese. Brazil already has that 5th strongestworlld economy –

    • Hello and thanks for sharing.

      This is the list of the most studied language, not the most spoken. Of course, this article talks about people studying a foreign language, not children studying their own language at school.
      We do have an article (below) with the most spoken languages, and Portuguese is in it, while Italian isn’t.
      http://www.mosalingua.com/en/most-widely-spoken-languages/

      I hope this article would make more sense.

  3. And portuguese is spoken officially on 5 continents. Portugues is the most spoken languuage in the southern hemisphere.

    • Hello,
      Thank you for your comment!
      As you might already know, the list of the most spoken language in the world as well as that of the most studied one is very hard to prove to be true. Many people will either, disagree, partially agree, or completely agree with both what we and/or you said. One of our apps is for learning Portuguese, so we definitely aren’t against people learning it 🙂

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