According to a 2015 wired.co.uk article, there are around 7,100 languages in use around the world
, However, 90% of these are spoken by less than 100,000 people. Furthermore, Science Mag estimated that a different tongue dies out every two weeks. This is a faster rate of extinction than some species. To stop this trend, it is important that we preserve not only dominant languages, but also niche and tribal languages. The world needs more linguists to document and protect languages under threat.
Increasingly school students are being given the option of learning Arabic, Mandarin and Japanese in addition to the traditional Romance languages. This wider range of languages is much needed as global collaboration increases. The ability to communicate in different languages is becoming a core skill rather than just an optional extra. Language learning is also far more than a necessary work skill. The enjoyment of learning a new skill has almost been lost in an age where a lot of time is taken up on the internet and on smart devices.
Fauzia Eastwood and Tanyeem Hussein from the University of the Arts London Language Centre, shared their insight on why learning languages is so important for us as individuals and as a society.
“In an increasingly globalised world, people are able to communicate easily and instantly from almost anywhere in the world. Apart from the obvious benefits of opening up cultures at a deeper level, of improving employability and of facilitating travel, there are claims that language learning can:
When choosing to learn a language, most people in the UK choose Spanish, French or Italian. Is this to do with our geographical proximity to the countries where these languages are spoken, or is there more to our choice than meets the eye?
“The Latin roots of Romance languages make them more easily accessible to students who have English as their first language. Although English is not a Romance language itself, there are many words that come from Latin. This means many words in French, Spanish and Italian are more understandable for English speakers and this fosters a sense of familiarity which makes these languages seem less foreign. It also overcomes the initial barrier of learning a new language through building a prior familiarity with the language,” Hussein explained.
Of course, one main reason for encouraging language learning is that we are just hours away from mainland Europe. Opting to learn a European language can do wonders for our personal travel and tourism needs and make the travelling experience more enjoyable.
“Most children in the UK studied either French, German Spanish or Italian at school, so it’s natural that as an adult they’d wish to continue with a familiar language. In more recent years, Japanese, Mandarin and Arabic have been added to the curriculum and students’ parents sometimes choose to take classes in these languages so they can help their children with language homework,” added Eastwood.
As we move towards a future where communication and collaboration are at the cornerstone of most businesses, students are making smarter subject choices, and selecting subjects which will prepare them best for their professional lives. Learning languages should be part of this forward-thinking trend.
So how can we preserve an interest in language learning?
“Students can become more motivated to learn a language if additional elements such as arts and culture are added to the language syllabus.
“Including arts and culture in the syllabus adds interest and excitement to grammar and vocabulary learning, which are sometimes perceived as ‘dull’. Students also get to understand the importance of engaging with a language at a deeper level. A higher overall engagement with a language is built through studying its culture, history and arts. Where topics and language functions are interlinked like this, learning becomes more memorable,” Hussain and Eastwood explain.
Though we are living in an age where communication has gone digital and even includes the use of emojis, there’s nothing that quite builds a connection or community like the spoken word – whether that be in English or another language.
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Safeera is Editor of Whatuni and a journalist from Kingston University. Always the inquisitive, her writing spans across a number of areas such as sustainability, fashion, lifestyle and now education. Her belief that you never stop learning and passionate nature has taken her to New York City as part of her degree and across the airwaves on national radio talking about the issues that matter to her.