Fun Fact: If you wanted to be able to say hi to everyone in the world in their own language, you would have to learn thousands of different languages.
Language is how people communicate with one another. Language is spoken. It is also written down. Sign language—used by many people who are deaf—is communication with gestures. We do most of our communicating by speaking.
Chinese is the world’s most widely spoken language. More than 1.2 billion people speak Chinese. Arabic is second and then Hindi, with English in fourth place. Other languages in the top ten are Spanish, Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and German.
Every language has different words for things. Why is the four-legged animal that barks called a dog in English? There’s no reason for it. It’s just an accepted custom among speakers of English. In Spanish dog is perro, and it is sobaka in Russian and inu in Japanese.
Making Sounds That Have Meaning
Spoken language is made up of sounds. Letters in the alphabet represent these sounds. The sounds usually don’t have meaning by themselves. But they can be combined with other sounds to create words that do have meaning. The letters i, n, and k do not in themselves mean much, but their combination as ink means something you write with.
Words get combined into more complicated constructions, called phrases. Then phrases get combined to make sentences. The proper ordering of words in sentences is called syntax.
How Do We Speak?
Talking is more complicated than you might think. Try making sounds, notice how air comes out of your lungs and moves through your mouth. Notice how your tongue and lips move.
Imagine how many different movements you make with your mouth every time you say just one sentence!
How Do We Learn A Language?
The first language you learn to speak is called your native language. As a baby, you listened to your parents or other people speaking and then imitated the sounds you heard. Babies seem to be born with an ability to learn the language they hear.
Native speakers learn as children to use the right words and arrange them in the right order without even thinking about it. If English is your native language, you know automatically that “I going bed” is wrong, but “I am going to bed” is right.
If you learn a second language, you have to memorize its words and learn its rules. That’s why learning a second language can be difficult.
Fun Fact: Young children can learn a new language very easily. If they are surrounded by people speaking a different language, they soon learn to speak it as well as their native language.
But as people grow older, it becomes more difficult to learn new languages. People gradually lose the ability to learn the grammar and pronounce the sounds of another language. People who learn a new language as adults usually have a “foreign accent” when they speak it.
Speaking Through Gestures
Sign languages are used for communication by members of deaf communities. Speakers make signs by gesturing with their fingers, hands, and arms. Some signs represent individual letters. Others stand for entire words or ideas. People using sign languages can discuss the same wide range of topics as people using spoken languages.
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