Language is what people use to communicate with each other. They can do this by speaking, writing, waving their hands or moving with their body to show others what they mean. Speaking goes back to the first humans; writing emerged about 5,000 years ago.


Elements of language

People learn to speak in a natural way, but they must be taught to write. Spoken language comes from sounds that form words and sentences that have a certain meaning. We use language to express our ideas and feelings.
Words can describe things, objects or actions. Some words are used to connect parts of a sentence. Languages have rules, called grammar. Sometimes grammar is easier, at other times people find it hard to learn all the rules of a language.



Thousands of languages have developed around the world during history. They all use different sounds and different words.  Almost all languages are influenced by other languages and borrow words from them. Kindergarten, for example, is a word borrowed from German.

Written languages use an alphabet to form words and sentences. The Latin alphabet is the most popular, used by many important languages. Other languages, for example Chinese and Arabic use other writing systems.


Languages in our world

There are about 7000 languages spoken in our world today. Only very few are so called world languages, widely spoken by millions of people, the rest are local languages that are only spoken in certain areas. The most common languages are Mandarin Chinese, English and Spanish.

Almost all countries have an official language that is used when you go to authorities or which is taught in school. Sometimes a country may have second languages that have developed through the ages. In India, Hindi is the official language, but most Indians can speak English quite well because of its history as a British colony. In Canada, English and French are recognised as official languages. In Switzerland, people speak German, French and Italian.

Within a country, people often speak dialects of the same language. In England, different dialects of Standard English are spoken between London in the south and Scotland in the north.



Languages that are related to each other form groups. Germanic languages are English and German, as well as the Scandinavian languages. French, Italian and Spanish are Romance languages.  All of these belong to the Indo-Germanic language family. Chinese, on the other hand belongs to the group of Sino-Tibetan languages.

Some societies also have minorities who do not speak the official language. Especially in countries in which immigration has played an important part in history, you can find several spoken languages. In the United States Spanish is the most common language next to English, but there are hundreds of thousands who speak Polish, Russian or Italian because their families have gone to the US during some point in history.

All over the world, millions of translators translate one language into another. Such people are especially needed in international organizations, like the United Nations or the European Union.



Changes in language over the ages

When people get into contact with other civilizations they need a common language to communicate. During the Age of Exploration European navigators simplified their language to communicate with the nativesof North and South America. Such languages are called pidgin languages.

Even standard languages change over centuries. English during the time of Shakespeare is much different from the English we speak today.


Future of languages

Over the past centuries, English has become the dominant world language, mostly because of the British Empire and the rise of the United States as a global political and economic superpower. Many linguists say that Mandarin Chinese will become the new number one language, because it is the mother tongue of over 1 billion people. China is on the verge of becoming a new economic superpower and many international corporations already advise their workers to learn Mandarin.

In the past, some attempts have been made to create a global language for everyone. A Polish scientist, Ludwik Zamenhof, invented Esperanto at the beginning of the 20th century.  His goal was to form a neutral language with easy words and grammar that is not so difficult to learn. Linguists claim that up to a million people use and speak Esperanto today.

Languages that are not actively spoken any more die out over a period. Linguists claim that 90% of the world’s 7000 languages will become extinct within the next 50 years.  Other languages, like Latin or ancient Greek, died out centuries ago, but are still needed in fields like medicine, biology, history or archaeology.


Language Total Speakers (Natives, First and Second Language Speakers (in millions)
English 2100
Mandarin Chinese 1100
Spanish 530
Hindi 500
Arabic 350
French 230
Russian 270
Portuguese 217
German 110



Related Topics



  • advise = suggest
  • authority =organization or government department that  has the power to do things and make decisions
  • century = a hundred years
  • certain = special
  • civilization =culture , people, society
  • colony = faraway country or area that a larger country controls
  • common = popular, widespread
  • connect = link
  • corporation = very large company
  • develop = grow
  • dialect = form of a language spoken only in one area; the words and grammar are a bit different than the normal language
  • dominant = number one, main
  • economic = about trade, industry, as well as buying and selling products
  • emerge = come up, appear for the first time
  • especially = above all
  • express = say and tell what you are thinking
  • few = not many
  • global =worldwide
  • humans = people
  • immigration = going to another country to work and live there
  • influence = affect, shape, change
  • linguist = someone who studies or teaches the structure of languages
  • local = only in a small area
  • minority = small group of people within a larger group
  • mother tongue = main language that you learnt when you were a child
  • natives = people who are born in a place and have always live there
  • navigator = person on a ship who decides which route to take
  • official = here: the main language
  • point = time, phase
  • popular = common, widespread
  • recognise = accept
  • rule = something that you are allowed to say in a language because it is correct
  • society = people in general, who live together in a country
  • through the ages = over history
  • translate = change written and spoken words form one language into another
  • verge = edge, close to
  • widely = generally, mostly