Trying to speak another person’s language when you travel is not just a gesture of respect, it can also open doors and opportunities that would otherwise remain closed to foreigners.
Take France for instance. As Peter Mayle, the best-selling author of A Year in Provence, once observed: “Bonjour is one of the most valuable words in the French language. Forget to use it when addressing a French shopkeeper or server, and you risk being ignored, or taken for an ill-mannered, arrogant foreigner.”
And lest we forget what Nelson Mandela once observed: "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
But with 7,139 different languages being spoken around the world, it’s almost impossible to learn them all or understand the idiosyncrasy of each. For example, did you know Spanish has several unique words that can’t be translated into other languages, such as sobremesa — it’s the word used when you stay at a table after a meal to share conversation over coffee or wine.
And, did you know that 2,400 of the languages being spoken globally are in danger of becoming extinct?
With the help of the language e-learning platform Preply and others, we’ve assembled 20 fascinating and fun facts about languages that you might find interesting before visiting a country. Like …
1- Contrary to popular belief, English did not originate on British soil. Rather, the popular language has historical roots in Germany from a collective group of people known as the Angles. These people were known as one of the main Germanic tribes who settled in Britain in the post-Roman period. Blimey!
2- Italian is not the language of Italy. Traditionally speaking, Italians choose a dialect known as Florentine as their official language. As well as this, most regions in Italy speak their own dialects rather than Italian.
3- With more than 73 characters, the Cambodian language gets the title of being the longest alphabet in the world. It’s also regarded as being one of the most difficult languages to learn.
4- Thanks to the wonderful world of fiction, there are 200 fake languages in the world, including the 13 distinct languages spoken in the Tolkien universe.
5- When it comes to the world’s multilingual places, the United States certainly is a strong contender, with over 300 languages spoken across its states. In fact, it has been reported that 21 per cent Americans are able to speak a language other than English at home.
6- Asia is the continent with the most recorded spoken languages — more than 2,300 of them. This is closely followed by Africa, with a total of 2,138 languages. Europe, on the other hand, only has 286 spoken languages.
7 - The fastest spoken language in the world is Japanese, with a rate of 7.84 syllables per second. That’s almost as fast as the country’s bullet trains.
8- Most languages adhere to masculine and feminine rules, while German seems to be ahead of the times by having three genders in its language — masculine, feminine and neutral.
9- While almost all of the world’s languages are influenced by another language, Basque is the only known language that has no correlation to any other language. The language itself is spoken in the mountains between Spain and France — safe to say that the people who live there are very secluded.
10- Did you know that the language of airplane travel is English? This is because everywhere in the world, the pilot and crew are expected to know English.
11- The English language contains the most words — over 250,000.
12- The Papuan language Rotokas only has 11 letters in its alphabet.
13- The language of La Gomera, spoken in some parts of Spain, consists entirely of whistles.
14- German is the most spoken language in Europe.
15- You’ll find a lot of Argentinians speaking traditional Welsh — their ancestors migrated to settlements in the Patagonia mountains.
16- Botswana has a language that is made up of five primary “click” sounds.
17- In Indonesia, the word “air” actually means “water.”
18- The first language spoken in outer space was Russian.
19- Other than English, French is the only language that is taught in every country. And who says colonialism didn’t work?
20- Over 300 languages are spoken in London and English may soon not be one of them.