March 7, 2011

Off-topic: What language is popular?

There are many ways to gauge what foreign language is popular. One way is to check how many books are at a bookstore. I went to a local Borders Bookstore and noted down the following. The numbers are the numbers of book shelves holding books for that language (self-study books, dictionaries, easy readers, etc):

Arabic: 1
Chinese: 1
French: 4
German:: 2
(ancient) Greek: ?
Italian: 3
Japanese: 2
Korean: less than 0.5
Latin: 1.5
Portuguese: 1
Russian: less than 1
Spanish: too many

Even if this were not in south Texas, I bet Spanish would still beat any other language. I'm surprised at the high number for French and relatively low number for Chinese, considering the fact that more high schools or junior high have both as foreign languages. But that's what the market is, or at least what the bookstore follows.

[Update] This posting has a follow-up in 2015: What language is popular? A revisit.


Merri & Graham at June 3, 2011 at 8:31 PM said...

I moved from Memphis, TN (where everything had a Spanish translation next to it) to Chicago, where Slavik languages are much more popular. It's much more common here to see Polish translations next to English signs.

Also, where in my highschool 99% of students took Spanish, and the other 1% took French, most people I've come into contact with (that I've thought to ask) took German or Russian in highschool.

Although I'm sure Spanish is the most popular throughout the country, I do believe region has a lot to do with it. Have you ever seen a Polish sign in Texas?


Yong Huang at June 4, 2011 at 7:46 AM said...

No doubt Spanish should be more popular in the south than in the north, due to the distribution of Hispanic population. If you count the number of book shelves in your local bookstore in the foreign language section, even in Chicago, do you see Spanish books more than others?

I've never seen a Polish sign in Texas. I don't recall ever seeing in Texas the letter "l" with a slanting bar crossing it (the characteristic letter of Polish). Thanks for telling me Slavic languages are more popular in your area.

Pytilovsky at June 25, 2011 at 12:31 PM said...

Interesting observation) I live in Sevastopol, Ukraine(my first language is Russian) and I can say that for my country and also for Russia the pattern of foreign languages popularity is clearly seen. Of course, first comes English, than German, which is followed by French. The forth place is shared by Spanish and Japanese. Japanese is mainly popular among youngsters due to their love to Anime and Manga. I've also been communicating to people world wide at language exchande sites like Mixer and I know that Spanish is the most popular language for learning in the world) It is also very beautiful. I hope to learn it one day.

Yong Huang at June 26, 2011 at 9:36 AM said...

Thanks for posting your observation. As a European country, Ukraine sure will have major European languages as the most popular ones. Spanish is gaining ground everywhere, presumably because of increasing awareness of the number of countries as well as people speaking it. I heard Japanese is picked up by youngsters only to abandon it later when they realize it's not an easy language. In fact, Japanese is thought even by many Chinese people as harder than Korean, except at the beginning.

Yong Huang at August 26, 2011 at 2:27 PM said...

The local Borders Bookstore is closing. I went and checked the shelves again. Interestingly, there're books of pretty much every major language scattered around, *except Chinese*! Double-checked. Confirmed. There were Arabic, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, and lots of Spanish. No Chinese. Not sure why. I don't remember if there were Korean.

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