Listening Topic: Language and Communication – Student presentation

A. Listen to two students give a presentation in class. Number the topics in the order they are mentioned.

___ Programs for reviving Native American languages

___ Different opinions on how many languages exist today

___ The situation with the Welsh language

___ Criteria for deciding if a language is in danger

___ Why the topic of language loss is important

B. Listen to the presentation again. Write down some notes about each of the items below. Listen again if necessary.

1  Between 6,000 and 6,800

An estimate of number of languages in use in world

2  Half the world’s languages


3  46 different people


4  Different criteria


5  Why preserve languages?


6  The Welsh language


7  250 languages and 150 languages


8  Ways to preserve Native American languages




5 1 4 2 3


Answers will vary.

 Believed that half world’s languages could be lost be end of century

 Are last speakers of their languages

 Make it difficult to find agreement on the number of languages at risk

 Don’t know what information or traditions we’re losing when a language disappears

 Example of a language getting stronger

 Used to be 250 Native American languages, but now only about 150 in use

 Use older peoples’ knowledge; tape record older people; have older people care for children and teach them; have speakers teach and learn on the telephone; study the old records of ancestors


A = Claudia, B = Alan

A:   Our presentation today is on language change and language loss in the world. First we’ll talk about what the situation is, and then we’ll give some examples of programs being implemented. Alan, do you want to begin?

B:   OK. First, some background on the situation. There are actually differing views on how many languages exist in the world today. Most estimates say that there are somewhere between 6,000 and 6,800 languages still in use. Unfortunately, many of these languages are in danger of disappearing of becoming extinct. Now, it’s hard to find an exact estimate on how many, but some people believe that as many as half of the languages still in use could be lost by the end of the century. Think of it: half of the languages that exist.

A:   Here’s a more specific example of how languages are being lost. An article in the magazine Nature in 2003 stated that there are 46 different people around the world who are the last remaining speakers of their language.

B:   Wow. Imagine if you were the only speaker of your language left.

A:   Yes. Now one of the problems with all this is that it’s very difficult to get complete agreement on actual language numbers and then it’s also hard to find agreement on the number of languages that are at risk of disappearing. One of the big reasons for this is that the criteria used are often very different.

B:   Let’s look at an example. For instance, some researchers might consider a language in danger if there are less than 10,000 speakers of it left while other researchers might not consider a language in danger until there are only 500 speakers left. The point is that different researchers have different ideas about when they might say that a language is really in danger of disappearing, so it’s a problem.

A:   But for the most part they all agree that languages are in fact disappearing.

B:   Oh yes, that’s true. And most agree that it’s happening quite quickly.

A:   So, then the question is why is this important? Should we be concerned about language loss? Obviously, people might have differing opinions on this. Some people might say that it doesn’t matter too much, that, in fact, fewer languages could make it easier to communicate.

B:   Another viewpoint is that it is important, that we don’t actually know what information, traditions, or things like that we’re losing when a language disappears.

A:   So that’s the situation in terms of language loss. The good news is that, there are some actions that appear to help. And there are some examples of languages that are in a better state than they were. For example, Welsh, the language spoken in Wales. There were fewer and fewer speakers of Welsh in Wales as more people started speaking English exclusively. But the country started working very hard to increase the number of speakers of Welsh: teaching and using Welsh in the schools and encouraging the use of Welsh in public forums, and there has been some progress.

B:   Native American languages in North America are another example. There were once more than 250 languages spoken by Native Americans. Unfortunately, experts now estimate that there are only about 150 language still in use, and even more unfortunate, experts think that very few of these are likely to exist in 60 years. But, there are some interesting programs being used to try to keep some of the languages alive. Claudia, can you give some examples?

A:   Yes. One typical problem is that in many cases the remaining speakers are elderly. So they’re trying to take advantage of the older people’s knowledge while they still can. They tape-record the older people who can speak the language, in order to have an audio record of the language. In some cases, they also might have a linguist work with the older people to get information about grammar and vocabulary. It’s a little sad, but obviously, having all that information recorded gives the possibility that they can still work on the language even after these remaining speakers are gone …. Another way they use the knowledge that the elders have is by having the older people work with the children. They baby-sit, or help with preschool, and speaking the language. They’re doing this with the Navajo language in the Southwest.

B:   It’s interesting because in some places distance is a real problem.

A:   Like in Alaska?

B:   Yes, Alaska is a good example. People might not be able to get together to speak because of distance, so they teach and learn over the phone.

A:   Now as Alan mentioned, with some of the Native American languages there are actually no longer any living speakers. So there are also some examples where people are trying to learn the language of their ancestors by studying old records. Obviously, this would be a very difficult process.

B:   Yes, and it is important to say that these kinds of programs are difficult, and slow. In the end, they may not be enough.

A:   Yes, true. Are there any questions?

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