The English language is one of over 7000 languages in use all over the world today. Languages survive for different reasons and do not always die with the extinction of their users. Chinese is likely to be a prominent language in the future because of the large number of people who will be speakers of its now predominantly taught form, Mandarin. About a quarter of the world's population already speak Chinese. Spanish has spread over a large area because of the colonial activities of Spain during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and it is very accepting of slight variations in form and accent. Mexican, Chilean, the Spanish of the Philippines and the Caribbean and that of metropolitan Spain are a bit like the allotropic forms of, say, carbon which is the chemical element forming, coal, graphite and diamonds. They are different but identifiably the same. English also spread throughout the world owing to colonization but it is also the most flexible of languages. It is possible in English to get things very wrong in the grammar, spelling, punctuation and pronunciation and yet still be understood.
It is expected that in a little over fifty years the world's dominant languages will be English, Chinese and Spanish. Fortunately some people have an aptitude for learning languages other than their native tongue. Those of us who are competent in only one language can access others via translations by such linguists.
Some of them are so competent that they are able to translate at the same time as others are speaking. This is much like a musician who can sight read a score and play it at the same time. Without such highly skilled translators such fora as the United Nations would be far more inefficient and much slower in operation.
As powerful as language is it is not perfect. Proficiency in one does not confer an understanding of another. Some languages are dead, some dying, others have a spoken form but no written system, others exist only in a textual form and in some cases the written form bears no relationship to the spoken word. There is a fine difference between a dead language and extinct one.
Language is a means of communication. It may be used audibly or graphically. This means, for human beings, the only species on the planet to have the capability of language, it may be spoken or written. Many animals can make noises. These noises probably convey simple messages but no animal sounds, however complex, can be reasonably considered to be concept-containing or idea-transmitting speech as are human utterances. No animal makes marks that could be considered to be writing. It is language that makes us unique and all-powerful.
We have no knowledge of the language of extinct peoples such as Neanderthals or even whether or not they possessed such a skill. Perhaps the lack of this facility contributed to their disappearance. If they were literate then their language is now truly extinct as are they. Some languages now exist only in a written format as impressions in clay or carved in stone. Speakers of such languages have long since died out. It is unlikely that we will ever know of the colloquial forms or "slang" expressions of their everyday use. Other languages have been superceded or replaced. This is the case with many native American languages which have been overtaken by English, Portuguese, Spanish or French. The old Coptic language of the Middle East has been replaced by Arabic. Still other languages have fallen into common disuse but are retained for ritual, legal, scientific or ecclesiastical purposes. Latin, Coptic and Sanskrit are examples of such languages. Chinese is unusual in that it has no phonetic written form. Although speakers of the many dialects in use in China are not able to understand each other's speech, the written form of the language is accessible to all who are fully literate.
Humans do not have the capability of language naturally or instinctively. It is a learned skill. How well one acquires this skill determines the standard of living to which one may aspire. With just an ability in the use of language it is possible to achieve outstanding material success. With all other skills except in the use of language one can be an abject failure.
If you are not profoundly illiterate but would like to improve your competence in the English language this is perfectly possible Grammar is the structure of the language. It is the rules by which its use is governed whether in the spoken or written form. A better understanding of grammar may increase your ability to use the language effectively. This could well enhance you career prospects or improve your school/high school/college results. A knowledge of the rules means that you will be understood by those who can match or exceed your skills and by those who have just a rudimentary ability to use the language. It is in this respect that the English language is unique.
In South America, the Caribbean, Asia and Southeast Asia even where it is not one of the national languages the English language is widely understood. This is a great advantage for retirees because the ability to acquire a new language is not enhanced by age. Many have never had, in any event, the natural ability to learn a language other than the mother tongue. Memorizing and using a few simple phrases such as , "hello", "goodbye", "please", "thank you" and being able to count to, say, 10 will be appreciated by most in local populations where English is not commonly used. It shows that an effort has been made and will often encourage the other person to attempt a few words in English that may have been acquired. It is surprising how much information can be passed and communication developed in such exchanges.
In more formal situations such as banking or business it may be best to employ the services of a competent linguist. This is especially the case where high value items are involved such as a motor vehicle or property (real estate) where a written contract is likely to be needed. A good knowledge of the local language is also usually necessary in dealing government departments and health matters.
Fumbling in a foreign language can be fun. It just requires that you have a good sense of humor, are not embarrassed by making errors and that you do not laugh derisively at another's mistakes.
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