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.
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 people across the world.
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 converse in 150-200 languages 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.
Nearly every language uses a similar grammatical structure, even though they may not be linked in vocabulary or origin. 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!
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.
Something that might help is finding out about your learning style: are you a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner?
The visual learner might benefit from writing down words and phrases over and over again.
The auditory learner could gain from reading out loud or recording their own vocabulary lists and listen back to them.
The kinaesthetic learner may enjoy learning in a group or using flash cards or anything else that satisfies their hunger for ‘experience’.Finding what works for you could speed up your language acquisition – or at least make it more enjoyable!