The winner of Friday’s Tuttle’s Learning Chinese Characters was Janet in Eastleigh in the UK. Janet is a true linguist, a great blogger, and skilled origamist. You can catch up with her at Janet’s Notebook.
Here in the book industry, I enjoy being able to see some aggregate sales data about language books. This morning, I got to review some data about the 200 best-selling language books in the US wholesale and retail market and thought I’d share the “executive summary” here:
No surprise, Spanish is the great colossus in the US foreign-language market, and, in this survey of the top 200, Spanish materials make up 50% of the total units sold. Spanish is so far ahead that the top-selling Spanish book on the list (a paperback Merriam-Webster Spanish-English Dictionary under $7) outsells the bottom 25 books combined.
Our proximity to Latin America and sizable population of hispanohablantes in the US gives learning Spanish a real sense of utility. Studies of why US students most often choose Spanish, unfortunately, never fail to uncover a majority who admit that they perceive Spanish as the easiest foreign language to learn. The fact that US high school students pick a language based on ease says more about them (something woeful) than about Spanish—a noble language with quite a bit of grammatic nuance. But my point of view is “good riddance”. If you’re just looking for an easy grade, hasta luego.
Books in French and Italian came in at 17% and 10% of units sold. The French books tend to be grammar, while the Italian ones are travelers’ phrase books. ESL (English as a Second Language) grabs nearly 7%. German squeaks in at 4%. After that, a surprise. Lingua latina tamen mortua non est. Not dead yet! Latin is still alive at 3%.
It’s after we nearly exhaust European languages that we then see Japanese (#7) and Chinese (#8) as the highest ranking non-European languages. After them, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, and Korean round out the list. It’s great to see three Asian languages on the list in that order, and I’m glad to say that Asian-language high-school teachers tend to tell me they get the bright kids in school. Based on numbers in the new census, one might expect to see Tagalog or Hindi/Urdu appear on the list in the next few years.