Thanks to London Translations for today’s blog post about the value of learning Latin!
Latin, a language that is more than 2,000 years old and is still spoken in the Vatican today, has shaped modern European languages like no other. Who would’ve thought that this medium of communication, which spread through the power of the Roman Empire, would influence language as we know it, speak it and understand it worldwide?
But why bother with learning Latin? If you don’t want to work in the Vatican, why should you learn a dead language? Surely you might as well focus on learning a modern language that actually helps you to communicate with other human beings, whether you’re travelling the world, writing emails or letters, or having business meetings with international clients.
However, despite being so old, Latin can give your language skills a real boost and help with a range of tasks, including consecutive interpreting. Why? Let’s take a closer look.
It’s a fact that almost 50 per cent of English vocabulary comes from Latin and 20 per cent from Greek. So if you know your Latin, you can derive an array of English words and improve your vocabulary in general. This applies to other European languages as well.
By getting to grips with Latin grammar, you can gain a better understanding of what grammar is about and how to apply that knowledge to other languages, making it easier to identify grammatical differences in a variety of languages.
Better learning of modern languages
If you know your Latin, it will be easy for you to apply your grammar and vocabulary skills to the modern Romance languages, such as Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian. In fact, around 40 languages are connected to Latin. That is a big pool of knowledge.
Better performance in tests
People who know Latin generally outperform people who don’t in standardised tests. This may be because a language that has so many rules can help to shape logical thinking and cognitive skills in general.
Better foundation for different career paths
Knowing Latin and Greek can help to enhance your chances of succeeding in different career paths. In some professions, it is especially beneficial. Think of medicine, the law and philosophy.
As you can see, learning Latin has numerous advantages. It is not only a language for old, sophisticated men who sit in libraries all day. It is a language we should not forget and something that is well worth teaching future generations.
(In case you wondered what ‘scire linguas’ means, it translates as ‘learn languages’.)
If you’d like to try out a bit of Latin, you can find a free demo on our website.
Everyone’s always talking about how useful it is to speak another language – and they’re right, for so many reasons. There’s lots of advice too on how to get started and how to stay motivated when it gets tough. But the first question any aspiring language learner should ask themselves is, ‘Which language do I want to learn?’
Sometimes this is easy, because you’re moving to another country, or you’ve met a new partner who speaks a particular language. Even if this means you end up learning a language most people would consider unusual, to you it has a purpose and that makes it anything but obscure.
But what if you’ve just decided you want to learn a language, because you’ve heard that people with a second language earn more, or that learning a language makes you cleverer, and don’t have a particular one in mind?
At EuroTalk, we offer nearly 140 different world languages. It’s a pretty daunting selection to be greeted with when you’ve just Googled ‘I want to learn a language’ and stumbled on to our homepage, or downloaded the uTalk app. And that doesn’t even come close to the total number of languages spoken in the world. So how is anyone meant to choose one to learn? Do you just close your eyes and point at one?
Well no, we don’t recommend that approach; you could end up with something really fun that way, but at the same time, learning a random language just for the sake of it, when there’s very little chance you’ll ever get a chance to speak it, seems a shame. Half the fun of learning a language is getting to share it with other people.
So here are our recommended criteria for choosing a language:
Number of speakers
Generally, a language with more speakers is going to be more useful to you, because you’re going to have more opportunities to speak it. According to Ethnologue, the top five most spoken languages in the world are Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic, with a total of 2.4 billion speakers between them, so knowing one of these languages is going to guarantee you lots of people to talk to.
On the other hand, it depends on your reasons for wanting to learn a language. If it’s to make friends all over the world, one of these five languages will stand you in good stead. But if it’s to improve your employment prospects, bear in mind that you might face more competition if you’ve chosen a popular language. I studied Spanish at university, which is in great demand with employers. But so did lots of other students. We’ve got five people who speak Spanish at EuroTalk – two of them are native speakers (there are less than twenty of us in total, to put that in context) so it’s rare for me to be called on to use my language skills. Something like Portuguese or Japanese, which are still in the top ten in Ethnologue’s list, might offer fewer opportunities but when one comes along, you’re probably not going to face as many rivals for the job.
Where it’s spoken
Another important factor. Firstly, you don’t want to learn a language that’s spoken in a country you never intend to go to, or in which you’ve no interest. Secondly, some languages, like French, Arabic or English, are spoken in many different countries. So if you’re going travelling and want a language you’ll be able to use in more than one place, one of these will be more useful to you. But if travel’s not top of your agenda, this might not be such a big consideration.
Similarity to other languages
Most world languages are organised in families, which means they come from the same root as the other languages in that family. This means often, although you may only speak one language, you can probably at least make yourself understood in another. Hindi and Urdu, for example, are mutually intelligible, as are Czech and Slovak. If you know Spanish, you can make a reasonably decent attempt at Portuguese or Italian, and although you might make a few mistakes, chances are you’ll be understood. I’m not suggesting you should go around speaking the wrong language at people, but if you do make an honest slip-up, or just can’t think of the right word, you’ll probably be ok. I’m fairly sure I spoke quite a bit of Spanish when I was in Italy earlier this year, but everyone seemed to understand what I was getting at.
Some languages, though, don’t have any close neighbours, or indeed any neighbours at all. Basque, for example, is what’s known as a language isolate, as is Korean. This means they don’t belong to a family, but stand alone, so if you’ve chosen one of these languages, it’s worth remembering that it won’t help you with any others.
Partly, this is to do with your travel interests. If you’ve a particular interest in Russia, for example, we’d recommend you learn Russian. But even if you’re not particularly interested in travelling, there are other things to consider. Are you a fan of opera? Maybe give Italian a go. Anime? Japanese. Star Trek? Klingon.
Or maybe you’ve got a particular interest in endangered languages, in which case you might want to learn Cornish or Sardinian, not necessarily for the wealth of communication opportunities it offers, but to help save a valuable world language from extinction.
You know yourself better than anyone. How motivated do you feel? Is this just a passing whim that you’re likely to give up the moment it gets difficult, or are you prepared to stick at it? The fact is, some languages are harder than others, and this is different for everyone, depending on your native language. For Europeans, Dutch is considered quite an easy language to learn, while Mandarin Chinese is very difficult. But someone living in Japan may find Chinese much easier to learn than any European language.
So if you’re living in Europe and intending to learn Mandarin, you’ll need to be pretty dedicated. And if you know you don’t have it in you, it might be better to try something else rather than face disappointment when it doesn’t work out. Nobody’s bad at all languages – you just need to find the right one for you.
If you’re still undecided, and in need of some inspiration, take our quiz – it’s not at all scientific, but might give you some ideas!
If you have any other tips or suggestions for readers trying to choose a language, please share them in the comments.
**** The survey is now closed. Thank you so much to everyone who took part. Congratulations to our lucky winner, Konstantia Sakellariou! ****
Calling all language learners, past, present and future! We want to hear from you… Which language(s) are you learning (or would like to learn), and why? What makes people give up? And how important is it to learn a little of the local language before you travel to another country?
We’d love to hear from you; the survey only takes a couple of minutes to fill in (we’ve checked) and to say thank you, we’ll enter you into a prize draw to win an iPad mini, pre-installed with our app, uTalk, in the language of your choice.
This is a two-part research project. Part 2 will be available soon and we’ll let you know when it’s ready.
Thanks for your time 🙂
And please share the link with friends and colleagues too – thank you!
From September this year, it’s going to be compulsory for primary schools in the UK to teach a foreign language. This is causing quite a lot of stress for schools, according to a report published earlier this week, which says that 29% of teachers don’t feel confident about teaching a language to their students. That’s hardly surprising, considering many teachers haven’t studied languages themselves since their GCSEs, which for some will have been quite a while ago.
But despite this, the report says, 85% of primary schools have said they believe making languages a requirement is a good move, and many are already tackling the situation head on by introducing languages before it’s required by law.
So what exactly is the point of teaching languages at such a young age? Many people will argue that the curriculum for children is already too full, with a need for English, maths and science, as well as citizenship, history and physical education, to name just a few. Why squeeze in yet another subject, especially in a world where many people believe that ‘everyone speaks English’?
Learning a language is good for your brain
Well firstly, learning a language can actually make you smarter. The positive effects are well documented – bilingualism makes you better at problem solving, planning and verbal reasoning. Research by psychologists at Penn State University has shown that if you’re bilingual, you’re likely to be better at multi-tasking, because your brain is used to ‘mental juggling’. And other studies have shown that learning another language can help to delay the onset of dementia in later life.
It makes you better at your native language
Studying a second language helps you to understand your own, because it makes you think about how language is formed. Because I grew up speaking English, I don’t really remember learning the rules of the language; they just came naturally. But when I took up Spanish, suddenly I needed to think about grammar, and about how I was structuring sentences, which is much more important in Spanish than in English. For example, in Spanish you can’t end a sentence with a preposition, which made me realise how often I was getting away with this in English. And I would never have even known the subjunctive existed if not for my Spanish studies (although I’m not going to lie and say I use the subjunctive regularly in English!).
Learning a language prepares you for the rest of your life
I don’t just mean learning languages at secondary school, although it’s likely that children who leave primary school with some knowledge of another language will want to continue it when they move on. I mean beyond school – when the time comes to choose degree courses and, even more importantly, find a job. A recent article in The Economist says that employees with a language in the U.S. can earn on average 2% extra, which may not sound like much, but over time can add up to some serious money. Not only that but learning a language will make it easier for you people to go travelling and see the world; it might even help you find the love of your life!
The younger, the better
It’s a common argument that children are better at learning languages than adults; because of the way the brain develops, some scientists believe there’s a ‘critical period‘ for language acquisition. And although there’s plenty of evidence that this might not necessarily be the case (just look at Benny Lewis, who didn’t start learning languages until adulthood, and now speaks twelve languages fluently), I do think there’s something in it; after all children are constantly learning new things, so one more probably won’t phase them. And they’re also in a better position to learn than adults, who are very good at finding other things to do and worry about. (I know I am.)
Some people might disagree with me here, looking back on their own language classes at school with its endless repetition of vocabulary and verb conjugations. Obviously I’m biased, but I do think learning to speak another language can be really fun if it’s put across in the right way. There are so many exciting ways to teach a language, from songs and TV shows to games and apps. The internet is full of great ideas – have a look at #mfltwitterati on Twitter as a good starting point.
Or check out the Junior Language Challenge, EuroTalk’s national competition for children aged 10 and under across the UK – it’s great fun for children, makes life easy for teachers and raises money for charity all at the same time. Just the other day we received a message from one of our 2013 finalists, who said, ‘It was a great adventure. It’s now set me off to learning languages from all over the world.’