Crisis.

Jeopardy.

Emergency.

These aren’t words we typically associate with the topic of language learning. Ok, well perhaps “Jeopardy!”: for those familiar with this American game show. 😉 You may be surprised to discover that there is, indeed, *a direct* connection.

We often talk about HelloTalkers learning English, Chinese, or Korean. Prompted by September’s European Day of Languages, we thought we’d stir things up a bit!

We’ll introduce you to languages at risk. Languages in crisis. Languages in danger.

Languages Like Dinosaurs 🦕

Languages at risk of extinction are called endangered languages. Wait, extinction you say? Like dodo birds and dinosaurs? Yup, that’s right.

According to Ethnologue, a catalog of world languages, there are more than 7,000 languages on this planet. 😲 The UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger tells us that more than 2570 of them endangered, which makes it more than 36% of the total number!

Out of all languages, 2,000 of them have fewer than 1,000 native speakers [1]. And, what is even more interesting, 12 of the most common languages are spoken by 66% of the world’s population. Imagine, 12 languages almost rule the other 6,988. This makes the world’s entire linguistic power be concentrated in the hands, or rather tongues, of the few.

12 of the most common languages are spoken by 66% of the world’s population! Click To Tweet

Linguistic diversity is different languages spoken in a region divided by the number of speakers. The more different languages are spoken in a place, the more linguistically diverse that place is. To illustrate, according to the UNESCO index of linguistic diversity, Japan is ranked 182 while Kenya is ranked 16, making Kenya much more linguistically diverse.

Why is this such a big deal? Linguistic diversity is recognized as an important resource of humanity: ☝️ one of the main indicators of a vibrant, living community akin to biological diversity.

Here are some of the many reasons why linguistic diversity is an important part of our shared human heritage.

  • Language is closely intertwined with culture. Cultures are repositories of knowledge. Losing a language means losing a whole body of knowledge preserved in a culture.
  • Language is history. We study history at school and understand that our past defines our present. Each language preserves a unique part of human history. Losing a language is like losing a bit of history, consequently making our understanding of the present incomplete.
  • Language is science. Get ready for the nerdy bit. 😉 Studying and preserving endangered languages shows us what human languages are capable of from the linguistics’ point of view. The features of various languages illustrate the limits of human communication capacities, pronunciation, and the ways the human brain processes reality.
  • Language is power. When a community has its own language, it supports its right to self-determination. A language almost serves as a requirement to have a significant cultural legacy. It might not always be a fair solution, just one of the ways our society is built.

Protecting multilingualism, and with that also endangered languages, is key to fully preserving our human heritage. This is talking about the past, but language preservation also has direct impact on the present. It fosters intercultural dialogue which contributes to greater peace and cooperation. You must admit, without speaking each other’s languages it’d be pretty hard to communicate! Because even when you use an in-chat translator in HelloTalk, the exact meaning can be lost. 🤷‍♀️

You might think, “oh well, this isn’t really a problem anymore — everyone is already learning a language, Rosetta Stone, Duolingo are selling like fresh pain au chocolat!” Well, that’s not exactly the case. In fact, on average across the world, 3.5 languages a year go extinct.

Languages die just like plant and animal species. And, in a sense, they die for similar reasons. When they stop propagating. Click To Tweet

Language Vitality

Different scales are used to measure what the linguists call language vitality, “the health” of a language. UNESCO lists nine factors used for measuring this feature. One of the most important of these factors is intergenerational language transmission.

What is this multisyllable term?

When the language isn’t being taught to the younger generations any longer, it has a higher chance of disappearing. Simply because there are less and less people who speak it. Without a group of younger speakers, words for new concepts don’t naturally evolve through daily interaction. So, no one will know how to talk about Snapchat or the newest release of Assassin’s Creed. 😥 The language becomes confined to topics of the past.

Making Languages Cool

Remember the days when language learning was “uncool”? The ancient, pre-Duolingo times, where the mastery of grammar belonged to the selected few individuals with super-computer brains… Well, we do! Learning was very laborious and practicing nearly impossible, unless you were lucky to “have a foreigner” in your town. 😅

A language associated with an older generation and traditional way of life might also seem uncool; there is much less incentive to learn it. Who would you speak it to? 🤔 Probably only your older aunties and grandparents’ friends. And about what… traditional embroidery? Not to diss embroidery, of course, but you’d probably want to chat about topics that interest you, and with speakers who are more or less your age.

Access to the internet made it easy to share resources and connect with native speakers in other countries. A revolution! Members of cultures dispersed across the globe could actually start forming vibrant communities. 🙌 This was a game changer for minority languages.

With a limited number of learners, it might be hard to find speakers of similar age groups and interests nearby. But, with learners connected across the borders? A wider community of speakers means a wider choice of people to speak to! So, while no one in your town is interested in speaking about Naruto in Chichewa, there might a fellow Chichewa-learning anime fan on the other side of the country!

Better connectivity unites people across borders. Languages are being used for communication through online channels. This forces them to enter a new, modern realm, making them potentially more appealing to younger people.

Making them cooler.

Language Education

Online is the future of education. An increasing number of people get academic degrees through online programs. The necessity of the constant acquisition of new skills pushes us all to rely on MOOCs (massive open online courses), where many people can utilize experts’ knowledge at a low cost.

A similar trend is evidenced in language learning, where language learning has become a necessary “badge” of a global citizen. User cohorts of language learning apps and online courses are skyrocketing — HelloTalk alone already has more than 12 million users! 😳

What if we combine the awareness of linguistic diversity, positive forces of globalized connectivity, and the newfound coolness of language learning? This mix can only lead to one thing: an overall increased support of endangered languages.

And guess what?

This is what HelloTalk does.

Through supporting many endangered languages on HelloTalk, we aim to increase awareness of their existence. We want to help all communities in spreading their languages and enable their members to interact.

Our mission 🚀 is to provide language communities with a platform to teach about their cultures. HelloTalk’s goal is to introduce language fans to unique aspects of all languages, whether through conversation exchanges or through posting Moments!

Some of the various endangered languages that we currently support are Basque, Catalan, Choctaw, Dakota, Flemish, Frisia, Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, Galician, Haitian Creole, Hokkien, Maori, Náhuatl, Ojibwa, Quechuan, Shanghainese, Welsh, Yiddish.

Get Involved Now! 💪

Ready to get involved? There are several ways you can join us on our mission.

Are you a teacher of an endangered language? Let us know. We’ve launched a Live Class feature where language and culture teachers can share their knowledge, giving group classes through HelloTalk. Follow & message @htgroupchat on HelloTalk to learn more.

Do you speak an endangered or minority language? Post a Moment to share your language with the HelloTalk community!

Want to have your community language supported in HelloTalk? Write to us at hi@hellotalk.com explaining your suggestion.


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-worlds-languages-in-7-maps-and-charts/