The most studied languages in the world are not necessarily the most spoken languages in the world. Italians were recently shocked to find out that their mother tongue is the fourth most studied language in the world, despite its apparent complexity. But have things changed over the past couple of years? And what are the main reasons people choose to study languages?
The Most Studied Languages in the World: Ranked
There are many different reasons people choose to study languages, but it tends to come down to two main things: cultural and economic relevance. Of course, a language’s complexity is also fairly important when deciding whether or not to commit to the task. It’s also important to consider just how widely spoken a language actually is. The greater the number of speakers, the more useful the language will be to learners hoping to interact with as many people possible.
All things considered, it’s not entirely surprising to find out that the most studied language in the world is English, followed by:
Italian is the fourth most studied language in the world
The 2014/2015 academic year was a historical moment for Italy. It was the year Italian officially became the fourth most spoken language in the world, surpassing French. In 2014, the number of students learning the language spoken by Dante (and Massimo Bottura) went from 1.7 million students to over two million. Within another two years, the number had risen to 2,145,093 students in over 115 countries.
Italian stands out from other languages for a number of different reasons. First off, it’s only spoken by about 60 million people in Italy and has never truly been ‘exported’ outside the country’s national borders. This isn’t the case for Spanish and French for example, which are more widely spoken due to the lasting effects of colonisation.
However, the Italian language has also earned the bittersweet record of being spoken in the greatest number of countries in the world (as many as 26). Why? Due to mass migration to countries with flourishing economies,
Why then – given that it is fairly complex, difficult to learn, spoken by a relatively small number of people and poorly suited to commercial contexts – is Italian studied so widely? The reason appears to come down to its vast cultural relevance. Italian is often studied by professional musicians and opera singers due to its rich musical heritage. Italian is also considered the language of art, given the impressive concentration of the world’s artistic legacy in the Bel Paese. Italian is also a language of world cuisine, and a large number of chefs and cooking enthusiasts get to know the basics of Italian, with some choosing to further their knowledge in order to read recipes written in the original language.