16

Say I'm a native Tagalog speaker wanting to learn German. Seeing as how there's not an abundance of Tagalog --> German language courses online or in person (and that's an understatement!), I would need to learn, say English or French, to find a course that teaches German.

As in the example above, knowing what single language will enable you to learn the most other languages? To narrow the scope a little, let's restrict this only to online-based languages learning software or websites. I would logically think English, as English is the primary language of the Internet, but I could be wrong. In your answer, please include your own statistical estimates or those of a linguistic expert.

  • Rather than asking what the best "common" language might be (likely opinion-based since there are so many languages), I would go in the direction of asking what "approach" (techniques) could be used to learn a language when learning resources in the source language are unavailable. Possibly it is using an intermediate language, but there may be other possibilities. – user3169 Apr 26 '16 at 2:19
15

As you say in your question English is the most common language on the Internet.

Also as far as I could see I can find online courses for learning any language using English i.e) English->Other languages.

Considering the fact that you are asking only about online learning it would be easy to decide that if you know English well you make use of a large number of online courses. But in many cases it is not a necessity.

For Example, I could find online help contents for learning Arabic through Tamil. But if I want to learn Arabic through English I just have large number of options online.

12

Definitely English.

For one, English, as you say, is one of the most common languages of the Internet and modern communication. Just look at Duolingo and Babbel, two widely popular language learning sites that offer the most foreign language courses for English.

Really, the only language that could compete with the dominance and prevalence of English is Mandarin Chinese, but the problem with Mandarin is that it's widely spoken in only a few concentrated areas (namely China). English speakers are more widely scattered across the globe. Mandarin also suffers from lack of universal support due to the Unicode Latin alphabet being developed for Latin characters.

  • Id like to add to this that the second language on the internet is Spanish, not mandarin :) – Peter verleg Feb 13 '18 at 13:34
2

It is reasonably easy to calculate the languages available on Duolingo, a free USA-based language learning platform. List at the bottom of the post. It is obviously biased towards the major languages in USA (English and Spanish), but also works according to some semblance of market logic. I guess that the topmost languages on Duolingo would also rank high on other similar lists.

Anki is a popular flashcard website/program, where users may make their own decks for learning languages or other things. The list of popular languages on Anki website below. Note that it includes decks that use that language, in particular teaching that language or from it, or teaching other things through that language. I don't know how reliable the list of popular languages is.

Of the top ten languages on Duoling, Portuguese, Italian and Turkish are not on the Anki popular list. The other direction does not say much, as the Anki list also includes languages that are popular to learn, but not necessarily to learn from.

Anki popular languages

  • Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish

Duolingo how many languages can be learned from this one

  1. 27 (+4 in development) languages from English.
  2. 8 (+1) from Spanish
  3. 5 (+1) from Portuguese
  4. 5 from French
  5. 4 (+1) from Arabic
  6. 4 (+1) from Russian
  7. 3 (+1) from Italian
  8. 3 from German
  9. 2 (+2) from Turkish
  10. 2 (+1) from Chinese
  11. 1 from Czech
  12. 1 from Dutch
  13. 1 from Greek
  14. 1 from Hindi
  15. 1 from Hungarian
  16. 1 from Indonesian
  17. 1 from Japanese
  18. 1 from Korean
  19. 1 from Polish
  20. 1 from Romanian
  21. 1 from Thai
  22. 1 from Ukrainian
  23. 1 from Vietnamese
  24. 0 (+1) from Bengali
  25. 0 (+1) from Punjabi
  26. 0 (+1) from Tagalog
  27. 0 (+1) from Tamil
  28. 0 (+1) from Telugu

None from others.

1

English, without a doubt.

English is not only the original and most widely used language online, and the language of two suporpowers (UK and USA) with wide network of allies and interests, but there are market reasons.

In English speaking countries, there is a big for-profit market for tool/courses/resources to learn other languages. Because it is so big (and has many paying customers), price can go down substantially. There are many massive online platforms like edX.org, coursera.org, udemy.com with huge number of free (or extremely inexpensive) courses. They sell their services to companies interested in their employee's education, and as a result can sell big volume of such courses, so individual price is very low. Also, because of such competition, many smaller companies publish free material as loss leader to get traffic and human interest to their websites, hoping to sell some additional products.

In example edX.org provides most courses for free, and pays for the servers by charging $50 for certified courses (where they provide certification that given person passed the course). But courses are free without the certification. Also, old courses are archived and you can read it all for free, even read the archived chats. The only thing missing in free course is: you cannot get a response from a real live teacher (only from your peer students).

This is economy 101: if products are sold in big volumes, per-piece price is close to marginal cost. And marginal cost of a digital file hosted on the internet is close to zero.

Also, both UK and USA spend non-for-profit and government resources to promote English and also created free resources to learn both English, and learn other languages for English speakers (and published them on the internet): Both "Voice of America" and BBC have big online presence (funded by governments with budgets bigger than most other countries can spend on such efforts).

FSI is required to sell educational materials for USA citizens at cost (because their creation was financed by taxpayer's money). They resolved it by just posting it all (instructions for more than 70 languages) on internet for free.

As a result, there is huge volume of free or very cheap language learning resources in English, and problem is not to find a resource, but decide which one from so many available is good enough to spend your time on.

  • Since your answer is based on the economy of language learning, it is worth noting the very Stack Exchange network is also English-based, and all sister language-related sites accept questions and answers in English. – bytebuster Jan 5 '18 at 18:37
  • @bytebuster - I was considering adding SE as another "English first" resource, but I guess it is self-evident for OP who posted a question here :-) – Peter M. Jan 5 '18 at 18:40
  • Downvoter, please explain why, so I can learn how to write better answers – Peter M. Jan 5 '18 at 19:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.