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K-pop has popularised Korean among Indian language learners

Global media content has popularised English, Spanish and French among Indians too, says Duolingo’s country head Karandeep Kapany.

Online language learning is on the rise of late. According to a report by market research company Technavio, the category’s global market size is projected to grow by over $29 billion between 2021 and 2026, with an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 18%. 

Language learning app Duolingo is leading this growth, with over 500 million users accumulated over a decade. The Pennsylvania headquartered application recorded over 98 million downloads last year, making it the most downloaded app in the education category. While the platform is free to use, the application generates money through ads and premium subscriptions. After its global success, the brand has ramped up efforts to amplify its user base in India. 

In August last year, Duolingo carried out a hyper-localised campaign crafted for Bengali-speaking markets, with a focus on Kolkata. The campaign, conceptualised and executed by Digitas India, led to a 400% surge in the platform’s active users in India. Kolkata became the third largest user market for Duolingo in India. 

K-pop has popularised Korean among Indian language learners

“Our launch strategy included a 360-degree campaign built on the themes of ‘Soja’ (easy and effective), ‘Moja’ (fun), and ‘Free’. These three themes were leveraged across various marketing touchpoints, such as radio, outdoor, influencer and social media,” says Karandeep Singh Kapany, country head, Duolingo. 

Karandeep Singh Kapany
Karandeep Singh Kapany

The company’s efforts to push this vernacular campaign were further enhanced by audio tracks, mall activations and even sweet boxes.

“Keeping Bengali roots at the core, we created three different video assets, featuring catchy Baul-inspired audio tracks sung by Ananya Chakraborty and composed by Surojit Chatterjee. Additionally, we rolled out mall activations and collaborated with a well-known Kolkata-based sweet seller to create ‘Duolingo sweet boxes’, which were gifted to users who downloaded the app and successfully completed one unit of the new course.”

According to Duolingo’s Language Report 2022, there is an increasing trend of multilingualism in India, with English being the top priority among learners.

But with growing exposure to global media content, Indian audiences have appropriated elements from different cultures, leading to a more eager outlook towards foreign languages. A good part of this multilingual upsurge, Kapany asserts, reflects popular cultures trending across the globe. 

“With English still being a priority, other languages such as Spanish, French and Korean are witnessing a rise in their popularity as well. For example, in India, the growing popularity of K-dramas, K-pop and K-cuisines has made Korean a popular foreign language among learners aged 17 to 25. Besides Korean, French, Spanish, Japanese and German are also quite popular amongst Duolingo learners.” 

Kapany adds, “While India is being influenced by cross-cultural exchanges, its culture is also being received positively around the world. The Duolingo Language Report 2022 shows that Hindi is one of the top 10 languages studied around the world.”

“Indian movies have a huge role to play in this. In addition to global recognition, movies such as ‘RRR’, ‘Gangubai’, amongst others, have also helped global Duolingo users to learn Hindi.”

But how much does the cross-cultural exchange of ideas, or convergence of different media landscapes from across the globe, prompt consumers to learning new languages? 

Kapany answers, “Over the years, entertainment has helped to bridge the language barrier and allowed access to content from various parts of the world in various dialects, supported by translated subtitles. Be it TV dramas, movies or documentaries, users have been consuming content in different global languages due to their compelling storylines and relatable characters.” 

“Korean dramas such as ‘Squid Game’, ‘All of Us Are Dead’, etc., sparked interest in Korean culture and language in India, and the same reflects in the number of Duolingo learners from India taking Korean lessons.”

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