Reading and Vocabulary
1. Learn some interesting facts about languages. You will come across a notion of lingua franca. A lingua franca is a language used by different populations to communicate when they do not share a common language.
(A)It’s estimated that up to 7,000 different languages are spoken around the world. 90% of these languages are used by less than 100,000 people. Over a million people communicate in 150-200 languages, one-fourth of the world's languages are spoken by under 1,000 people, nearly 500 are spoken by less than 100, and around 175 languages in the world are spoken by less than ten people. And 46 languages have just a single speaker!
Languages are grouped into families that share a common ancestry. For example, English is related to German and Dutch, and they are all part of the Indo-European family of languages. These also include Romance languages, such as French, Spanish and Italian, which come from Latin.
2,200 of the world’s languages can be found in Asia, while Europe has a mere 260.
Communities which are usually isolated from each other because of mountainous geography may have developed multiple languages. Papua New Guinea for instance, boasts no less than 832 different languages!
(B)The world's most widely spoken languages by number of native speakers and as a second language, according to figures from UNESCO (The United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), are: Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German and French.
(C)The ease or difficulty of learning another language can depend on your mother tongue. In general, the closer the second language is to the learner's native tongue and culture in terms of vocabulary, sounds or sentence structure, the easier acquisition will be.
So, a Polish speaker will find it easier to learn another Slavic language like Czech than an Asian language such as Japanese, while linguistic similarities mean that a Japanese speaker would find it easier to learn Mandarin Chinese than Polish.
Dutch is said to be the easiest language for native English speakers to pick up, while research shows that for those native English speakers who already know another language, the five most difficult languages to get your head around are Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
(D)Globalization and cultural homogenization mean that many of the world’s languages are in danger of vanishing. UNESCO has identified 2,500 languages which it claims are at risk of extinction.
One quarter of the world’s languages are spoken by fewer than 1,000 people and if these are not passed down to the next generation, they will be gone forever. Now nine different languages are facing the crisis, including Irish Gaelic, Maori, Berber, Guernesiais, Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Manx.
And every year the world loses around 25 mother tongues. That is equal to losing 250 languages over a decade - a very sad prospect for some.
(E)The Latin, or Roman, alphabet is the most widely used writing system in the world. Its roots go back to an alphabet used in Phoenicia, in the Eastern Mediterranean, around 1100 BC. This was adapted by the Greeks, whose alphabet was in turn adapted by the Romans.
Here are the world’s most widely-used alphabets (or scripts) which are still in use today (in alphabetical order): Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese script, Cyrillic, Devanagari, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese script, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Latin, Sinhala, Thai and Tibetan.
(F)When NASA launched the 'Voyager 1 & 2' spacecraft in 1977, they put on board golden discs containing the sights and sounds of Earth, including greetings in 55 of the world’s most widely understood languages. These are currently travelling through space!
The United Nations uses six official languages to conduct business: English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Arabic.
Under the Romans, Latin became the lingua franca across Europe. As of 2010 the European Union has 23 official and working languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.
(G)Around 200 artificial languages have been created since the 17th century. The first were invented by scholars for communication among philosophers. Later ones were developed by less scholarly men for trade, commerce and international communication. They include 'Interlingua' (a mixture of Latin and Romance with Chinese-like sentence structure), 'Ido', 'Tutonish' (a simplified blend of Anglo-Saxon English and German) and the more commonly-known'Esperanto', invented by Ludwig Zamenhof, a Jewish ophthalmologist from Poland, in 1887.
Esperanto is a spoken and written blend of Latin, English, German and Romance elements and literally means "one who hopes". Today, Esperanto is widely spoken by approximately 2 million peopleacross the world.
(H)The first language you learn, your mother tongue, usually comes with little conscious effort. If you're lucky, you might even acquire more than one language in the so-called 'critical period' of language learning, believed to end sometime between ages 4-12. After that, it doesn’t come so easy, as you might have found out at school.
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