Language learning soars in Britain as Brexit looms

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As the Brexit deal agreement hits crunch time, data released today shows a surge in Britons learning languages in the run-up to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Figures show that UK users have been using Lingvist, the leading AI-powered language learning application, far more frequently than other Europeans in the last 8 months, as opposed to the first 8 months after the UK’s EU referendum which showed that Europeans were more active than UK citizens.

With 62% of British citizens only being able to speak English, the UK currently has the lowest proportion of language learners in Europe. This year’s A level results showed a huge decline in the uptake of modern languages, and Government statistics show that the UK is losing £50bn a year due to poor language skills with an over-reliance on one language affecting business turnover, profitability and expansion to new market. This new data suggests the UK is becoming more open minded when it comes to foreign language learning as its population prepares for Brexit. This is the first sign that the country is turning its reputation for foreign languages around in light of its decision to leave the EU.

Lingvist looked at how active people are on the platform by counting the average number of learning ‘cards’ used per registered user by region - ‘cards’ referring to the window that appears on a user’s smartphone or desktop to learn new words. They also counted the amount of unique words seen by users in their chosen language. The period up to 8 months following the referendum result in June 2016 saw English to German average numbers higher in Europe than the UK - 530 cards [Europe] vs 447 cards per registrant [UK], 167 words [Europe] vs 148 words [UK] per registrant.

However, in the last 8 months, this trend has been flipped on its head and we’re seeing more active UK learners than European learners - 486 cards [Europe] vs 603 cards [UK] per registrant, and 130 words [Europe] vs 136 words [UK] per registrant. This trend was replicated in French, with an average of 180 unique words seen per registered user in the UK as compared to 155 in Europe over the last 8 months; similarly, the average number of cards read per registered user for the French course rose to 595 in the UK, 497 in Europe. They have also experienced unprecedented user uptake from the UK, with growth of 203% in the last 8 months as opposed to just 65% growth in the 8 months after the referendum.

They also found an increase in English-as-source users overseas, recording twice the number of English-as-source users than English-as-target users in Germany over the last 8 months. This suggests that British expats living in European countries are spending more time learning languages.

The overarching trend around these results indicate evolving British sentiments around the subsuming of other cultures, and with anxieties running high in the run-up to Brexit, this data provides a glimpse into UK attitudes around foreign language learning, which has had consistently low uptake in the country.

Ott Jalakas, COO and co-founder of Lingvist, said: “These results are a positive insight into what the UK will look like post-Brexit. Our figures show that there has been a clear evolution from the first 8 months after the Brexit vote, to the last 8 months when it comes to Britons’ appetite for language learning. By extension, this also means that despite the rhetoric around the UK becoming more insular in the wake of the Brexit vote, it is in fact becoming more culturally inquisitive by spending time learning other languages.

“We believe that foreign language skills foster greater relationships for individuals, whether they be personal or professional, and they hold great weight in encouraging international and cultural cooperation, which is why this data is very promising. It is also great to see that British expats living abroad are spending more time learning foreign languages, as we’d always encourage any person living in another country to use a platform like ours whilst immersing themselves in a foreign language and culture.”

Ott Jalakas added: “Despite these encouraging signs, the UK has a long way to go when it comes to foreign language uptake as compared to other European nations. We’d like to call on the government and educational institutions to encourage students to take foreign language courses, to implement cutting-edge technology within their organisations to assist in this, and to promote this kind of technology for public use to ensure that the number of UK language learners continues to rise.”