Can you say Squid Game in Korean? TV show fuels demand for east Asian language learning

Japanese and Korean are in top five choices in UK this year at online platform Duolingo

Whether it’s down to Squid Game or kawaii culture, fascination with Korea and Japan is fuelling a boom in learning east Asian languages. Japanese is the fastest growing language to be learned in the UK this year on the online platform Duolingo, and Korean is the fourth fastest.

Most of the interest is driven by cultural issues, the firm said in its 2021 Duolingo language report, which will be published tomorrow and analyses how the 20 million downloads of its platform are used.

Established elements of Japanese popular culture, such as Pokémon and video games, have been joined by a global surge in the popularity of anime such as Dragon Ball and My Hero Academia.

Duolingo said that 26% of language learners had been influenced by key cultural moments, such as the Tokyo Olympics and Euro 2020, and by TV shows such as Squid Game, which saw a 76% rise in Korean learners after it launched in September. A third of learners said they had chosen to watch a film or TV programme in another language.

Globally, Japanese overtook Italian to become the fifth most popular language in 2021.

Jun Jinushi, executive director of the Japan National Tourism Organisation’s London office, said that the numbers of people travelling from the UK to Japan had been at an all-time high before the pandemic hit.

“We have certainly felt the growing interest in Japan and Japanese culture over the past few years,” he said, citing the Rugby World Cup in 2019, and TV shows such as Joanna Lumley’s Japan, James May: Our Man in Japan and Tom Daley Goes Global.

“There may also be something to be said for the ubiquity of Japanese food on UK menus, and a generation of children who fell in love with Japanese pop culture now coming of age and reappreciating the country and language that gave them the likes of Pokémon, Super Mario, and Studio Ghibli.”

Spanish, French, German, English and Italian are the most popular languages on Duolingo in the UK, followed by Japanese and Welsh, the fastest growing language last year.

Welsh remains popular, according to Colin Watkins, UK country manager at the firm. “We’re almost at two million learners, which I expect we will pass before Christmas,” he said.

“The increasing popularity of Asian languages, driven by the interest in Asian culture, point to a fundamental change in learner motivations and a real shift in what the UK wants to learn.”


James Tapper

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
You’ve seen the gory Squid Game TV show? Now buy the tracksuit…
The hit South Korean Netflix show, likely to become the most-watched TV series ever, is setting trends around the globe

Edward Helmore

10, Oct, 2021 @6:45 AM

Article image
Interest in anime and K-pop drive boom in Korean and Japanese degrees
More students now study Korean than Russian, and Japanese than Italian, report shows

Rachel Hall and Jedidajah Otte

29, Dec, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
Squid Game owes its popularity to anxieties of modern life
It’s the first South Korean drama to top the US Netflix charts and its core message is ‘can I ever repay this debt?’

Zoe Williams

09, Oct, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2021, No 5: Squid Game
Hwang Dong-hyuk’s South Korean satire chimed with a massive global audience facing calamitous times

Stuart Jeffries

16, Dec, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Where have all the translators gone?
The global audience for foreign-language streaming shows has never been larger. But subtitlers are leaving the industry in droves

Miranda Bryant

14, Nov, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Hellbound: the South Korean death-fest that wipes the floor with Squid Game
The terrifying Netflix show also deals in violent ends – with demonic smackdowns by CGI brutes – but it’s so much more than Squid Game. This is truly exceptional drama that will be spoken about for decades

Stuart Heritage

25, Nov, 2021 @12:25 PM

Article image
Squid Game lays bare South Korea’s real-life personal debt crisis
Household debt is now equivalent to over 100% of GDP and has gone hand in hand with a dramatically widening income gap

Nemo Kim in Seoul and Justin McCurry in Tokyo

08, Oct, 2021 @11:06 AM

Article image
Netflix edits Squid Game phone number after woman deluged with calls
Popular drama’s use of real South Korean number leads to thousands of prank calls and texts

Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

07, Oct, 2021 @11:39 AM

Article image
Tokyo diary: South Korea and Japan turn back the clock
The two countries revived former colonial tensions with politically charged gestures

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

25, Jul, 2021 @8:30 AM

Article image
Learning German is just the job for savvy millennials
Growing numbers of under-30s are attracted to the language to better their career options

James Tapper

18, Aug, 2018 @4:30 PM