Endangered languages

Earlier this year I did a FutureLearn course about multilingualism, during which we had to consider the role of minority languages. I’ve also been reading up on some of the lesser known languages for my A-Z of languages series. As a result of all this, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much effort should be put into keeping vulnerable languages alive.

As anybody who has read this blog know, I love languages. They have fascinated me ever since I was 3 when I first realised that there were languages other than English out there. At school I begged my friends to teach me some words of Urdu, and I used to carry round a note book so that if I came across foreign words in books, I could write them down and learn them. I’ve studied living languages (French, Spanish, German, Chinese, and Arabic amongst others) and I have O’ and A’ levels in “dead languages” (Ancient Greek and Latin). I’ve listened enraptured as a tour guide explained Egyptian hieroglyphics to me, and every time I go to Wales, I look at the Welsh language information boards, even though I don’t understand them. I say all this as context to my musings……

I was actually shocked to discover that in a country as small as the UK, there are ten languages on the UNESCO endangered list, ranging from vulnerable to already extinct. Some I was aware of (Welsh, Cornish, Manx), others I had never even heard of (Norn and various versions of Channel Island French).  My first thought was that it was sad that we have already lost some of these languages, and that it would be lovely to revive those that have become extinct, and to boost those in danger to ensure their survival. After all, these languages are as much a part of our culture and history as castles and stone circles.

But how do you find the resources to revive 10 different languages? If you can’t afford to protect them all, how do you choose? What makes one language worth saving over another?

And in a country that is criticised for its poor language skills and its people’s inability to communicate with others in their own language, can we really justify spending time and money keeping languages alive artificially? Would we not be better to dedicate our time and energy learning the languages that are useful for international trade and relations?

In an ideal world I’d love to learn them all ten languages, and then teach them to others to restore a rich tapestry of language to our beautiful islands, Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world though, and I only have the time and energy to learn one more language properly, and for my own personal circumstances that has to be the non-endangered German.

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Start a Conversation

ChatterbagsIan and I bought these fabulous bags to let people know which languages we can communicate in – very important for a language teacher and a tour guide. If you see us out and about carrying them, do come up and say hello in any of the languages we ticked.

If you want your own bag to start your own conversations, check out ChatterBags.


L is also for… Languages

LL is for Languages…

Children who go to school now are lucky.  They get to learn languages at Primary School, but when I was young we didn’t get to learn them until Year 7.

Learning languages is great fun – it doesn’t matter whether it’s French, Spanish, German or even Chinese.  Practicing what you’ve learned with your friends is always enjoyable, and you can talk without parents or teachers knowing what you’re saying!

It’s also very interesting to learn about how people live in other countries – what school is like, what festivals they celebrate, the traditions and foods they have.  I think that learning another language helps you with your English too, as you get to revise what adjectives, verbs, adverbs and nouns are without even realising you’re doing it.

Of course, knowing a language is useful.  If you go to a country on holiday and you can speak the language there, you can make friends, order food, go shopping and impress your family with how clever you are!

I enjoyed languages at school.  They were my favourite subjects and I always tried really hard to practice and improve.  I’m glad I did, because now I use them every day for my work.  If you enjoy languages, and you work really hard in your lessons, they are great subjects to study.  And if you do languages at university, you get to spend a whole year living in a country where they speak the language you are learning!

There are loads of jobs where being able to speak other languages is useful.  So they’re not just something fun to do at school along with the “serious” subjects like Maths and English, they are a great thing to learn as a child and for your whole life.

This post is a guest piece from the ever wonderful Ian Braisby.

Related posts: K is also for…  M is also for…

Languages, Dyslexia and Free CPD!

On the first day of my summer holidays I headed off to Shropshire for a Dyslang event, having decided that anything that combines my two big interests – languages and dyslexia – had to be worth giving up a day of my holidays for.

It was about the problems faced with teaching multi-lingual individuals who have dyslexia. Difficulties in even diagnosing dyslexia can arise because of the influences of the individual’s first language (for example they may use a different script, their language may be read from right to left, there may be sounds in English that don’t exist in their first language). I don’t want to write a whole post about Dyslang because they have a website which will tell you all you want to know about they do – you’ll find it at www.dyslang.eu.

Dysland e-learning modulesWhat I do want to do is to tell people that there are 12 e-learning modules on their website which are completely free – all you have to do is register. Free CPD – what more could you ask for?

The other thing I want to do in this post is to share a fascinating nugget of information that I discovered on the course:

Our brains function differently depending on our first language and culture! The brains of people whose first language is English have a phoneme-grapheme correspondence function, but because not all of our words are phonetic their brains also have a word recognition function. The brains of people whose first language is a phonetic one, such as Italian or Spanish, have only the phoneme-grapheme recognition – because they don’t have any non-phonetic words, they don’t need to recognise words that don’t follow the pattern, so the word recognition function just doesn’t exist. Amazing!

What’s the best age to start teaching my child a language?

This is a question I get asked a lot – especially by parents who are holding new-born babies in their arms. My recommendation would be to start getting them accustomed to the sound of the language you have chosen straight away – not by engaging a home tutor, but by playing them a CD of nursery rhymes at least once a day.

Wait until they are at least 3-5 before you think about having a language tutor, and then consider making it a family learning experience rather than a lesson just for your child. This will make the experience less intimidating for your child, will enable you all to practise together in between visits from your tutor, and will help your child retain the language better.