America’s Foreign Language Problem

It is not surprising that Americans’ interest in and knowledge of foreign languages has been steadily diminishing. Compare the US presidents in the 18th and 19th centuries to those since the mid to late 1900s: Despite limited technology, the early US presidents were surprisingly erudite when it came to foreign languages. To name a few: John Adams knew Latin and French. Thomas Jefferson was fluent in French and also knew Spanish, Welsh and Arabic. James Madison was versed in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. In contrast, all presidents since FDR barely spoke/speak any language other than English. Why this trend prevails has long been a topic […]

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Why Thinking In A Foreign Language Makes You More Rational

Researchers at the University of Chicago asked a seemingly innocuous question: “Would you make the same decisions in a foreign language as you would in your native tongue?” (find the paper here) The answer is “no”. In the worlds of Boaz Keysar, the lead researcher: It may be intuitive that people would make the same choices regardless of the language they are using, or that the difficulty of using a foreign language would make decisions less systematic. We discovered, however, that the opposite is true: Using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases. Four experiments show that the framing effect disappears when […]

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The World’s Languages in Maps and Charts

Washington Post published a list of maps and charts that list various characteristics of the world’s linguistic landscape.   Here are some interesting takeaways:   Asia (2,301 languages) and Africa (2,138) lead the world in terms of language diversity.       Chinese dwarfs all other languages in terms of number of native speakers, but Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali speakers are growing at a fast rate.       Most linguistic diversity is observed in sub-Saharan Africa.   via chartsbin.com     English is the lingua franca across most of the globe.   In terms of how many countries speak it….     […]

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Why does Africa have so many languages?

  Why does Africa have a third of the world’s languages (over 2,000) with less than a seventh of the world’s population, whereas Europe has only about 300 with about an eighth of the world’s population? Scientists have often attributed this linguistic diversity to Africa’s genetic diversity (Africans are more genetically diverse than non-Africans). That, in turn, is a result of humanity’s origin in the African continent. But is this a valid, let alone sufficient explanation? Probably not. Investigators from Terralingua did not find a strong correlation between genetic and linguistic diversity on the African continent. “There’s huge linguistic diversity in Africa, but it’s not concentrated in the […]

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The Second Most Spoken Languages Around the World

Olivet Nazarene University produced an amazing infographic that quickly shows you each country’s second most spoken language. The infographic’s insights show a positive correlation with immigration patterns (e.g., Australia -> Chinese; USA -> Spanish).   Interestingly, in both Africa and Central/South America, indigenous languages dominate the map. Several of those, however, are under danger of extinction, so this map will look very different in a few years.   The biggest surprise for me was Brazil, where the second most spoken language is German, estimated to have 3 million speakers. A look at immigration history sheds light on the case (Wikipedia). Germans began emigrating […]

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On Ioannis Economou and Polyglots

Ioannis Economou is a marvelous example of how much easier language-learning is than you think. The Greek translator claims to speak, read, and understand nearly all EU languages, and then some. Hyper-Polyglot, Greek Translator Speaks 32 Languages Over the ages, there have been numerous polyglots, self-proclaimed or otherwise. The earlier in history you go, the more impressive (and to some, questionable) claims of “polyglotism” become, considering the dearth of resources during those times. Giuseppe Mezzofanti did not have the ability to switch on his TV or computer and watch the news in Hungarian, yet learn the language fluently he did, along with a few dozen others. Quite […]

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A language family tree map

This is one of my favorite language maps. In a visually appealing way, it maps the relationships between Indo-European languages and their branches, and Uralic languages. It also adds the layer of size of each language, measured by the population that speaks it.   Did you know that, despite being in the same geographic region, the linguistic origins of Finnish (Uralic origins) are distinct from other languages in Scandinavia (which mostly have Germanic Indo-European origins)?   A highly recommended book is Asya Pereltsvaig’s Languages of the World, which explores languages and families in a very accessible way to non-linguists.   A language family […]

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Bilingualism is a beautiful thing

The advantages of speaking more than one languages. Studies show that bilinguals are more likely to get a job when they interview, and subsequently, to attain a higher educational and occupational status. Know more than one language? How your bilingual brain could pay dividends

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Useful Latin Phrases

The Art of Manliness blog lists a number of words and expressions in Latin that can benefit everyone in everyday speech. I am sure you already use several of these, but the actual meaning may surprise you. Latin Words and Phrases Every Man Should Know

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