The Edge of Extinction

What do snow leopards, African wild dogs, black rhinos, and the Arikara language of the North Dakotan indigenous people have in common? They are all endangered. Just as species’ extinctions threaten the food chain and thereby the ecosystem, language extinctions hurt cultural diversity and thereby our society. To best understand the harsh reality of language extinction, we should investigate some statistics. While differentiating between unique languages and dialects, or just variations of the same language, is very difficult, researchers agree there are between 5,000-7,000+ languages alive today. Studies project that up to 50% of these languages will die out by the end of the century. Some even say the figure is higher at 80%, That is one language dying every few months! This slow and steady leak of linguistic and cultural diversity must be plugged for the sake of our children gaining the exposure to different thoughts and ways of life- exposure that stimulates appreciation and innovation.

Admittedly, we, here at Little Pim, do not teach endangered languages, nor have we discussed them in prior blogs. We do, however, always hope to impart that a language is:

  • Powerful in the classroom, in the workplace, and on the street
  • Empowering in its ability to help cultivate creativity, cultural awareness, problem-solving skills, and pride in one’s roots
  • Effectively important to personal and societal growth

In spreading this message in the past (as we will continue to do in the future), we hopefully indirectly made the case for the preservation of dying languages. Additionally, in teaching what are currently actively used languages, we aim to prevent their downfall into the endangered category one day. Yet, today, in this article, we will take a firmer stand for endangered languages, giving them a voice that might otherwise soon be taken away. It is with this voice that endangered languages might return from the edge of extinction.

It is with power in numbers that we can spread the word and reach someone in a position to change an endangered language’s course, so share this if you like the rest of the article. I will explain how we classify levels of endangerment, expound on why you and your family should care, and share what YOU can do to create a better future in which we maintain cultural diversity and awareness.

How do we know when a language is dead?

There are two main measurements of a language’s vitality, the number of speakers and the number of avenues of use.

Number of Speakers

Many languages can be said to have few speakers, but the word “few” is loose and open to interpretation. Determining the exact number of speakers of a language, however, allows linguists to be specific in distinguishing between levels of endangerment. Arikara, which you may recall is in our backyard in North Dakota, is a critically endangered language, with only 3 speakers still alive while the Cherokee language spoken in Oklahoma is classified as a vulnerable language, with only 1,000 speakers.

Number of Functions

The number of functions a language takes on, whether that be in prayer, in scripture, in school, in ceremonies, etc. can quantitatively represent a language’s vitality, because the more sectors of life the language is involved in, the more spoken it must be, and the more it veers away from the edge of extinction.

Some other factors linguists consider with regards to a language’s vitality are the age range of speakers, the number of speakers adopting a second language, the population size of the ethnic group the language is connected to, and the rate of migration into and out of the epicenter of the language.

Why do we care?

In history, conquered civilizations have had to adopt the language of their conqueror in order to fit into their social structure and economy. This is the case because language is so integral to a culture. From writing literature, carrying out rituals and practicing religion to voting in elections, all the human interactions associated with a culture involve written or spoken word. Effectively when a language dies, the culture associated with it dwindles away as well. If 50%-90% of languages die within the century, 50%-90% of existing cultures will likely die as well.

Many of these cultures that will die out only possess oral histories, so we will lose out on the knowledge they have gained from years and years of experience. Even if some of the cultures whose languages die have been documented, without active speakers, their thoughts and practices will likely be left behind in favor of the ones possessed by the dominant cultures and languages. Accordingly, our future society will lack in a diversity of thought and practice due to a lack of cultural diversity. Not only do we lose diversity of culture and thereby thought when languages die, but also when people conform to speaking one language, as is the case with English in the business world. If we continue along this path, we will become a monolingual, culturally homogenous society. In such a society, people might communicate efficiently because they speak the same language, but creativity would be strangled and progress slowed.

What can we do about it?

To prevent the fate of becoming a uniform society, we must recognize that cultural exchange is a two-way street. People speaking endangered languages are learning other languages to be able to interact with members of their extended community. While it may be hard for us to learn endangered languages, we can educate ourselves on which ones are endangered and why, learn about the cultures the endangered languages are from, and encourage their preservation. For example, the Arikara people were originally a semi-nomadic community that expertly harvested corn and tobacco. This mastery of the land gave way to power over other groups living in the plains until smallpox hit. Would this knowledge of the land past on from generation to generation in their language be lost in translation if the language died? Time will unfortunately tell.

Moreover, to avoid one major language from pushing out the others in the future, English-speaking people could learn other languages to communicate with non-English-speaking people, tapping into a whole wealth of knowledge they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. We cannot become complacent just because English is the “language of business.” Little Pim can open your child’s eyes to these other languages and vibrant cultures in the click of a button… literally. Check out our new iOS app!

Live in a Spanish-speaking community? Try our Spanish for Kids program.

Want to know more than the words for French foods on the bistro menu? Try our French for Kids program.


Works Cited:

https://www.linguisticsociety.org/content/what-endangered-language

https://www.ethnologue.com/endangered-languages

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_endangered_languages_in_the_United_States

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arikara

Featured Photo by Mark Rasmuson on Unsplash

10 Words English Speakers Are Missing Out On

10-Words-English-Speakers-Are-Missing-Out-On

Uh um eh. We often find ourselves tripping on our words. This inability to articulate our thoughts can be the unfortunate side effect of nerves when addressing a crowd, discomfort talking to a stranger, or tiredness after a late night. However, it’s not always our fault at all. In fact, the English language is missing some words to succinctly describe a situation or feeling. Below is a list of just 10 of these words in foreign languages that efficiently express sentence-long concepts in English. Fun fact: the concepts that the English language doesn’t have words to describe are often unpopular, unaccepted or previously non-existent in our culture, which reveals how critical a role culture plays in language evolution. You may not want to integrate these words into your daily English conversation, but they are perfect for trivia or an icebreaker and they shed light on the power of language to provide speakers with the agency to voice thoughts.

1. German: kummerspeck

Ever drown your sorrows in chocolates after a heartbreak or dive into a pint of ice cream after a cruel day at the office? If you have fallen victim to the emotion-induced indulgence and seen progress in your cookie pack instead of six-pack, you can probably relate to this word, which directly translates to mean “grief bacon.”

2. Japanese: wabi sabi

In English, we sometimes call things “perfectly imperfect.” The Japanese have eloquently expounded on this oxymoron by giving a name to the ability to find the beauty in flaws and to accept life’s cyclic nature of growth and decay. American singer Lana Del Ray’s “Young and Beautiful” asks “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” and is therefore somewhat of an ode to this this subject matter.

3. French: seigneur-terraces

In Starbucks, you can always spot the people who haven’t bought a lot but are really just there to hang out, read a book, research for a paper, answer emails, or just kinda people watch. You know who you are. Well, the French have ingeniously come up with a word to describe these individuals who should owe rent to the coffee shop.

4. Italian: slampadato

The girl or guy at the party who is just a little bit too orange for comfort and definitely owns a membership to the tanning salon is perfectly described by this one word.

5. Mexican Spanish: pena ajena

Overhearing the silence after a colleague makes a bad joke to a group of coworkers or watching on as a woman in heels trips down the steps to the subway can cause you to cringe yourself. This discomfort born of others’ actions and the natural human urge to sympathize is described by this Spanish expression. While there was never a way to describe this feeling in English, kids today have come up with the phrase “second-hand embarrassment.” This goes to show how our language is evolving to fill holes that other languages filled long ago.

6. Russian: toska

Friend: “Are you okay?”

You: “Not really.”

Friend: “What’s wrong?”

You: “I don’t know.”

Such a conversation might ensue when you feel an emptiness or lack of fulfillment that can’t be attached to anything specifically. You might desire something without knowing what that something is.  We have all experienced it, but most of us bottle it up or sweep it under the rug, because it’s hard to communicate to those we trust and/or love. The Russians have crated a solution to this problem by having a word to describe this feeling.

7. Arabic: ya’aburnee

If you were assigned the task to write a paper analyzing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this Arabic word, meaning the desire to die before someone else, because life without him or her would be too difficult, could prove useful.

8. Portuguese: saudade

When your child loses his or her favorite stuffed animal to the devastating toilet plunge, he or she is suffering from this feeling: a yearning for something or someone that has been lost.

9. Chinese: yuan bei

The deal you have been staffed to at your job, the deal whose pitch you spent sleepless nights writing, you ran by seventeen different superiors, you revised thousands of times, and you cried about more than you would like to admit, just closed. That inexplicable sense of pride in yourself and the perfection of your work is no longer inexplicable thanks to this Chinese word.

10. Korean: dapjeongneo

When you ask your significant other, “Does this piece of clothing make me look fat?” or “Do you even think I’m pretty/handsome?” There is only one acceptable answer. If you have ever been on the receiving end of those questions, you know that. This concept of there being a “correct” answer that a person has no choice but to give has its own recently added word in Korean but no English counterpart as of yet.

 

Works Cited:

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/more-languages-better-brain/381193/

http://mentalfloss.com/article/50698/38-wonderful-foreign-words-we-could-use-english

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-01/emotions-which-there-are-no-english-words-infographic

https://www.google.com/amp/s/matadornetwork.com/abroad/20-awesomely-untranslatable-words-from-around-the-world/amp/

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170126-the-untranslatable-emotions-you-never-knew-you-had

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.lingholic.com/15-untranslatable-words-wish-existed-english/amp/

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

A Simple Guide: Which language is best for my child to learn?

languages-for-kids

Choice is an incredible gift. For parents, however, it is also paralyzing. When our choice regards our children’s education, we catalog every possible option, outcome, success, and worst-case result, don’t we? Little Pim applauds such parents who want desperately to choose what’s best for their child. We recognize how this deliberation is firmly rooted in love, so we not only gift you with choices, we also equip you with helpful tools to choose.

Seeing as multicultural awareness and the growing necessity for well-rounded children has never been as strong, we’re thankful for your interest in at least one of the 12 language programs we offer. You’ve likely had the thought: Which language is best for my child to learn? The following guide should help you confidently navigate your choice, as well as this important note.

Children aged 0-6 have brains best for learning up to three languages at once! If you can’t choose one, why not consider two or more? Your child will soon thank you for this choice between multiple languages learned. What a unique potential to influence our world!

Little Pim’s Twelve Language Programs:

Spanish

As the 2nd most common language in the United states, Spanish is one of the simplest languages for English-speaking children to learn and one of the most useful languages in the world for travel. There are over 414 million Spanish-speaking people in the world. Spanish lends well to learning other Latin-based languages in the future such as French and Italian. These languages all have Indo-European roots and share some characteristics that are present in Spanish but not English. Knowing Spanish can open up many job opportunities for your little ones, especially in the United States in healthcare or education industry.

Check out LeapFrog’s blog to learn about 10 benefits of teaching your child Spanish.

Frenchlittle-pim-for-kids

Did you know that French is the most widely studied language in the world? As the official language of over 29 countries, French is highly utilized in the world of higher learning, literature, culinary arts, and fashion. It is also recognized as an official language of the United Nations. There are also many words in the English language that have French origins, such as “rendezvous” or “cinema.”

French is also one of the foreign languages our founder, Julia Pimsleur, chose for her two boys, Emmett and Adrian. Adrian speaks fluent French and Emmett speaks some Spanish, French and Hebrew.

Mandarin Chinese

It’s the most widely spoken language in the world! An increasing demand for Mandarin-speaking employees is just one reason to start your child early! Spoken by over 1 billion people worldwide, Mandarin is an official language of the United Nations. Mandarin Chinese is tonal, which means that pitch is used to distinguish its lexical or grammatical meanings. The earlier a child begins to learn this language, the easier it is for them to pick up on the differences in tone and begin employing them correctly.

The latest trends we’ve seen at Little Pim are new parents choosing to teach their child Mandarin alongside romance languages like Spanish and/or French.

Russian

russian-3-pak-digital-downloadAs the official language of the former Soviet Union, Russian is still spoken in 15 European and Asian countries. Russian is spoken by almost 280 million people worldwide, and is an official language of the United Nations. It is the fifth most frequently spoken language in the world. International political developments and growing business opportunities with multinational companies have led to increased demand and opportunities for Russian speakers.

The Russian alphabet is easy to learn and only has 33 letters. It is a Cyrillic script, which is a writing system used for alphabets across Eastern Europe, as well as North and Central Asia. The Russian alphabet is wonderfully phonetic, making it even easier than English as the letters have a consistent pronunciation.

Italian

Italian remains one of the top 5 languages studied in US colleges. Over 7,500 businesses correspond with Italy hosting over 1,000 US firms. If you’re child is a musician or music lover, he or she will love learning Italian. Did you know that Italian is the language with the highest number of words for naming food, restaurants, dishes, and produce? For more reasons to learn Italian, check out The Italian Academy’s article on the “Top 10 Reasons to Learn Italian.”

German

teaching-german-for-kidsAs the 10th most spoken language in the world, this language has English roots. Phew! There are thousands of words that are closely related known as “cognates.” Why not try this language long-associated with academia and science. Knowing German also increases business opportunities as Germany is the #1 export nation in the world.

Japanese

Almost every nation in the world includes some aspect of Japanese culture and commerce. Tourists flock to Japan annually, supping from its offerings and influence. Japanese is the 9th most spoken language in the world, with 128 million speakers. Japan has the 2nd largest economy in the world, which leads to increased demand for Japanese speaking experts. Learning Japanese may also inspire your child to learn the other Asian languages we offer such as Korean or Mandarin Chinese.

Arabic

As an official language of the United Nations, Arabic is the most widely spoken Semitic language. Arabic is spoken by roughly 300 million people. Many English words have Arabic roots; words like ‘candy,’ and ‘spinach.’ Yum! According to AmericanCounsels.org, “In the last 15 years, U.S. government agencies have expressed a much greater need for Arabic speakers to address the complex political, military, and economic questions surrounding U.S. engagement in the Middle East and North Africa.”

hebrew for young childrenHebrew

Over 10 million people speak Hebrew daily. Worldwide, millions more study Hebrew for both religious and cultural reasons. If you or your little ones plan to travel to Israel, learning Hebrew will definitely come in handy as it’s the national language. Israel is also one of one fastest-growing high-tech economies in the world. Learning Hebrew can be easy and fun, especially with Little Pim by your side.

Portugueseportuguese-for-kids

Welcome to the language of the Southern Hemisphere! Because this language is rarely studied, speaking it is an incredibly marketable skill. Did you know that Portuguese is the 6th most spoken language in the world, with 215 million native speakers?

By learning Portuguese, your kids will have a much easier time picking up any of the other romance languages like Spanish, French, or Italian since they all have Latin roots.

Korean

Korean is currently growing in popularity due to South Korea’s powerful economy, geopolitical importance, art and culture. There are over 80 million Korean speakers in the world and the Korean culture is like no other. Many people choose to study Korean because they fell in love with the culture. Korea is famous for K-pop music and Korean dramas. For more reasons, check out our blog post on why your child should learn Korean.

English

Little Pim’s most popular language program outside the United States in our English/ESL program. After Chinese and Spanish, English is the world’s most spoken language with over 335 million speakers worldwide.

Learning a second language can be fun, easy, and effective with Little Pim. Language learning should always be a positive experience and cannot be rushed. Remember to praise your little ones for speaking in the second language. Teaching your child a foreign language can be a great way to give your child a head start and prepare him or her for the global economy.

For more extensive explanations, you can read further here. And of course, please do not hesitate to comment below contact us with any questions.

Infographic: Second languages around the world

Second languages around the world

Here in the United States, it’s well-known that the most commonly spoken second language is Spanish. But what about in other countries?

Depends on where you go. In Africa, for example, there are a mix of tribal languages spoken in certain areas, while French, Italian and English dominate in others.

The Middle East also features a varied set of second languages, including Cantonese, Turkic, and Tagalog.

Overall, English is the most popular second language, with 55% of the world speaking English as their second language, followed by French (14%), Russian (13%) and Spanish (8%).

Even in primarily English-speaking countries, children are encouraged to learn another language at a young age, due to the cognitive benefits of learning languages and the globalization of our economy. Given that language acquisition is easiest when kids are young, starting early is key.

Check out the infographic below from Movehub to learn more about second languages in other countries, and check out our foreign language programs to start your child on the path to learning a second, third or even fourth language.

The Second Languages Of Every Part Of The World In One Incredible Infographic

Empowering Language Tips for Parents

baby language tips for parents
baby language tips for parents
Flickr: Chewy Chua

SheKnows recently published an article on raising bilingual kids featuring our very own Julia Pimsleur Levine! The article encourages parents to “Fill Your Baby’s Brain with Language” and includes some incredible case studies and language tips for parents who want to raise multilingual children.

The take home message is this: all parents are capable of giving their children the gift of a second language. Different families take different strategies: from One Parent One Language (where each parent picks a different language and sticks to it) to simply learning a new language along with your kids. The is no one right way to do it, and each family provides a bevy of useful language tips for parents who are thinking about introducing a new language. There is a style for every family.

Elsewhere on the internet, our friend Ana Flores of SpanglishBaby reminds us not to “underestimate how important commitment and consistency are in successfully raising a bilingual child.” In her piece, she runs through some general Do and Don’t language tips for parents to keep in mind as they begin to incorporate another language into their family’s lives.

Both pieces are must reads for families who are just starting to speak in new languages and for parents who are looking for ways to expand on what they are already doing!

  1. Fill Your Baby’s Brain with Language
  2. 7 Do’s and Don’ts of Raising a Bilingual Child

3 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bilingual Brain

bilingual brain surprise

bilingual brain surpriseThe internet is abuzz with news of a new study published in the journal Neurology that indicates that bilingualism can delay the effects of dementia (including Alzheimer’s). While other researchers have certainly drawn the same conclusion in the past, this study has the largest sample size and is certainly worth reading about!

But if you’re more interested in how learning a second language will impact your child’s brain NOW, here are a few more fun facts about the bilingual brain and language development from some of our favorite articles around the web:

  1. Children who learn multiple languages may make grammatical errors at first, but it won’t last! Just as monolingual children sometimes make errors as they begin to learn the structure of a language (“I go’ed” vs. “I went”), so do bilingual or multilingual children. It’s all a part of the language learning process.
  2. Socio-economic status has a greater effect on vocabulary than bilingualism. Some parents fear that adding a second language to the mix will stunt their child’s development in their first language, but more and more evidence indicates that multilingualism is an insignificant indicator of how a child’s vocabulary will develop. Read more at the New York Times.
  3. On the other hand, speaking a second language helps delay dementia regardless of education level. This new study demonstrates that even illiterate participants reaped the benefits of bilingualism, experiencing the same 5-year delay in symptoms as more formally educated participants.

4 Eye-opening Articles on Foreign Language Learning

baby eyes

Every week we find ourselves geeking out over all the amazing new information about foreign language learning that we find on the internet. If you’re like us (and we think you might be since… well… here you are), you might sometimes find this wealth of information a little overwhelming.

Not to worry, friends! Little Pim is here to help! Each week, we’ll cull the internet for our favorite language (and panda) related articles. This week, for your reading pleasure, four articles about the way language works inside the human brain:

  1. Your Mind on Language: How Bilingualism Boosts Your Brain. The title of this HuffPo blog post might say it all, but it’s a great read for anyone who wants to read about the science of language without having to wade through all the science-ese. Dan Roitman defines common scientific vocabulary associated with the study of language and also breaks down the way the brain processes language.
  2. Does Your Language Shape How You Think? You might have seen this piece in the New York Times Magazine! As it turns out, our first language may affect the way we formulate thoughts.
  3. EastEnders Effect: Watching TV Can Change Your Accent. A curious phenomenon, indeed! The cockney accent (‘ello guvna!) that features prominently in the UK soap opera EastEnders has been slowly sculpting and altering the way the Scottish accent sounds.
  4. Bilingualism Is Yoga for the Brain. A quick recap on the importance of starting early!

Until next time, read on!

Why Google Translate wouldn’t be possible without Harry Potter

Anyone who’s ever used an online translation tool knows that it’s a rather imperfect art.  Take a given sentence, run it through the translator, and then translate it back to English.  The result will be at best a little garbled, but will usually be pretty much incomprehensible.

Here is what happens, for example, when you run a sentence through Google Translate:

Spanish: Esto es lo que sucede, por ejemplo, cuando se ejecuta una sentencia a través de Traductor Google.

And back to English: This is the case, for example when the statement is executed through Google translator.

Clearly, professional translators don’t have much to worry about.  What is so interesting about Google Translate however, is that unlike other translation tools, it doesn’t actually deal with the meanings of words at all. Google translate doesn’t care about word meanings, syntax, or vocabulary. It turns out that there are only two things that Google Translate really cares about: Harry Potter, and the United Nations.

Rather than try and do any actual translating itself, Google Translate figures that someone else has probably already done the hard work for you.  Google uses its incredible computing power to trawl through the vast swathes of human translation work, and pairs your English sentence with a human-translated equivalent.

Google’s database for doing this is huge. Whenever you ask Google to translate a sentence, it draws on vast archives of translated text, including everything the UN and its agencies have ever done in writing in six official languages.

Essentially Google Translate is only as good as the human translation that has gone before it. It is built upon the millions and millions of human translators who first produced the texts that Google uses as its reference points.

This is why books like Harry Potter are so useful.  With translations in 67 languages, Harry Potter provides an excellent frame of reference for Google Translate to draw upon.  While there may be no recorded history of direct translation between Hebrew and Welsh, by running both translations through the hub of the original English text, Google can attempt a direct translation.

Because Google uses context rather than meaning, this can often result in some rather amusing translations.  As you can see, there’s still a fairly long way to go.

 

For more fascinating information about translation (and the source of this blog post) check out ‘Is That A Fish In Your Ear: Translation and the Meaning of Everything’ by David Bellos