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Apps lead the charge

Lockdown sees foreign language learning take off in UK

Foreign language learning is booming in the UK during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to the BBC, with a number of app providers telling the British broadcaster that the increase in the number of Britons downloading a language course far outstrips the growth in numbers worldwide.

US-based Duolingo reports a 137% increase in the number of British users in 2020, almost double the worldwide growth rate. Busuu reports a four-fold rise in UK numbers, giving it a total of three million users in the country, while Babbel’s UK registration rose by 80%. All the digital providers reported the top two languages for British language learners were Spanish and French.

Japanese, Spanish and Korean are the top foreign languages at International House (IH) London, which switched its large Modern Foreign Language department online in “a matter of days” following the first lockdown in the UK last March, according to Eleanor Maly, head of education at the London school. Maly admits fearing that student numbers would plummet, but few students dropped out. Indeed, numbers rose as new students logged on and, when the school opened its doors in September, many students preferred to continue their studies. IH saw similar outcomes for its part-time English Language courses for local students.

Outside the IH network, surprisingly few UK language schools chose to run classes in other languages, although a large number rent out their classrooms to third parties such as Cactus, who run evening classes for foreign languages.

Could this be about to change? Three of the newly accredited schools on the British Council list also offer foreign language classes in popular European languages for local students.

Language Tree, in Cornwall, for example, offers French, German and Spanish for local children doing their national GCSE exams. In Glasgow, Language Within has Gaelic on the menu, while HIL in Liverpool adds on heritage languages, including Hindi, Arabic and Farsi. Perhaps more established schools should be following their example.

Image courtesy of Library
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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