The English language is the most widely spoken language in the world, with about 350 million speakers. It has evolved from a regional dialect more than 1,500 years ago and continues to grow. Here’s a quick history of how this once-obscure dialect became global.
– The English language originated in England as a regional dialect of West Germanic around the 5th century AD.
– Welsh was the first language of Wales until it was displaced by English during Anglo-Norman rule in the late 11th century AD.
– English spread to the rest of the British Isles and, later, to Ireland and other countries around the world.
– The English language is currently spoken by about 350 million people across 44 countries worldwide.
– In Australia, Asia and Oceania English has evolved into many different forms of English, such as Australian English in Australia and New Zealand or Singaporean English in Singapore.
– In North America and South America there are varieties of American English that have replaced British Pronunciation.
– Although the English are no longer in control of their language, the English language has grown from a regional dialect to become a global language with more than 350 million speakers.
– The UK government and associated organisations have adopted legislation as well as official guidance to establish English language standards in England.
Other English speakers have started using these standards to create their own language norms, for example, American and Australian English.
– The English language is growing rapidly. In only 20 years, the number of English speakers has doubled to 350 million. The English language is growing in countries like India and China. It is also growing because of the development of many African countries, where English was first introduced by British colonialists
You have decided to learn another language. Now what? Ask yourself: what do you want to achieve and by when? Our teachers found: “Language learning is best when broken down into manageable goals that are achievable over a few months. This is far more motivating and realistic.”
You might be feeling wildly optimistic when you start but aiming to be fluent is not necessarily the best idea. We generally recommend making these goals tangible and specific: “Why not set yourself a target of being able to read a newspaper article in the target language without having to look up any words in the dictionary?”
REMIND YOURSELF WHY YOU ARE LEARNING
It might sound obvious, but recognising exactly why you want to learn a language is really important. Motivation is usually the first thing to go, especially among students who are teaching themselves. To keep the momentum going we suggest writing down 10 reasons why you are learning a language and sticking it to the front of the file you are using and turn to these in times of self-doubt.
It’s difficult to overestimate the impact of food on the development of modern languages.
The word for the cereal we eat in the morning is derived from Ceres – the Greek goddess of agriculture – while dinner originates from ‘disner’ in Old French, which in turn stems from the Gallo-Romance ‘desjunare’, meaning ‘to break one’s fast’.
Food has also infiltrated many aspects of modern communication, with a multitude of common phrases and sayings derived from foods.
Even the word ‘food’ itself can be used to describe something that provides mental nourishment or stimulus – ‘food for thought’.
Here are three of the most common examples of foods used in English.
Salt is a term of praise if a man is considered ‘worth his salt’ or is judged to be ‘the salt of the earth’.
In medieval times, an inferior guest at a banquet, seated at the bottom end of the table, was described as being ‘below the salt’.
Today, a person’s salary is based on the Latin word ‘salarium’, which comes from the allowance given to a Roman soldier to buy his salt.
Egg derives from the Old Norse word ‘eggja’ – and there are many modern phrases that relate to eggs.
You can ‘egg someone on’, for instance, or get ‘egg on your face’ when embarrassed by something you have done.
‘A good egg’ refers to a person who is good to the core, while ‘a bad egg’ refers to someone who may appear normal, but who is no good on the inside. The latter stems from cracking an egg open only to find out is has gone off.
A secondary meaning of cheese comes from the Persian Anglophile phrase ‘the chiz’, meaning a thing that is good.
The word itself has been used as a noun to describe something wealthy or top-rate since the turn of the 19th century, possibly due to the custom of American retailers to display overlarge wheels of cheese as a publicity stunt.
‘The big cheese’ refers to the best of the best, while the word cheese is also used frequently when talking about money and wealth. ‘He’s got a lot of cheese’, is a good example, as is ‘I need to make some cheese’.
Cheddar, as in the type of cheese, is often used in the same way. Fans of Hip Hop and rap music will be familiar with this.
UNCOVER THE HIDDEN MEANING
Upon hearing food phrases in everyday conversation, you could be mistaken for thinking they are a load of nonsense. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is always a hidden meaning behind food phrases.
Here are some other favourite food phrases in use today and the meaning behind them.
‘It’s all gravy’ (It’s all good) ‘Cool as a cucumber’ (Super, totally cool) ‘Chew the fat’ (To engage in frivolous conversation) ‘That’s the way the cookie crumbles / Don’t cry over spilt milk’ (Stuff happens) ‘Piece of cake’ (Easy) ‘Butter someone/something up’ (To flatter) ‘Spill the beans’ (Give away a secret) ‘Use your noodle’ (Use your brain) ‘Go bananas’ (Go crazy) ‘Bring home the bacon’ (Earn money) ‘A bun in the oven’ (Pregnant) ‘Wake up and smell the coffee’ (Reality check) ‘The best thing since sliced bread’ (It’s a big deal)
FOOD IS A GLOBAL LANGUAGE
But food phrases are not just found in English. Most languages around the world use food to convey meaning.
No country is the same, however, as a culture’s preoccupations traditionally have a big influence of the way language is used.
In France, for example, the passion for eating and discussing food has flavoured French in a number of tasty and unusual ways, with some expressions entirely unique to different regions or generations.
Here are some of the best examples in French today.
‘Appuyez sur le champignon!’ meaning ‘press on the mushroom!’ (Step on the gas!) ‘Avoir la banane’ meaning ‘having a banana’ (To have a big smile) ‘C’est pas la fin des haricots’ meaning ‘it’s not the end of the string beans’ (It’s not the end of the world) ‘Va te faire cuire un oeuf’ meaning ‘go cook yourself an egg’ (Go to hell) ‘Il fait tout un fromage de rien du tout’ meaning ‘making a cheese out of it’ (Overly dramatic)
Italy, which is championed around the world for its fine cuisine and delicious dishes, is also home to some unique food phrases.
Below are some great examples in Italian.
‘Conosco i miei polli’ meaning ‘I know my chicken’ (I know what I’m talking about) ‘Sei come il prezzemolo’ meaning ‘you are like parsley’ (You pop up everywhere) ‘Non fare il salame’ meaning ‘don’t act like salami’ (Don’t be a ham, you idiot) ‘Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco’ meaning ‘not all donuts come out with a hole’ (Things don’t always turn out as expected) ‘Non puoi avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca’ meaning ‘you can’t have a full wine barrel and a drunk wife’ (You can’t have your cake and eat it too)
CROSSING THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
There are also a number of instances where food phrases are used in more than one language to convey the same meaning.
Here are three of the most familiar phrases with cross-language implications.
LA CRÈME DE LA CRÈME
‘La crème de la crème’ meaning ‘the cream of creams’ has found its way across the Channel from French to English.
The phrase refers to the best of the best or the elite. It also occasionally expressed as ‘the cream of the crop’.
WHAT A PICKLE
‘What a pickle’, which is used to describe a tricky or difficult situation, is a food phrase that has made the switch from English to French.
In France it is ‘quel cornichon’ but carries exactly the same meaning. It is also sparingly used as an insult or a put-down.
WORTH HIS SALT
‘Worth his salt’ is a food phrase that has found its way into many languages around the world. It is most commonly used when referring to someone who is good or competent at their job or a specific task.
The phrase can often be heard in French (digne de ce nom), Italian (degno di questo nome) and Spanish (que se precie).
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
So it’s clear to see the impact that food has had on the development of modern languages around the world.
But language is constantly evolving and it will continue to do so – in terms of where we are at present, we are only on the starter. The main course and dessert are still to come, and food, once again, will play an important role in this development, as people come up with fresh, innovative and unique ways of expressing themselves.
If you are learning a foreign language, have you considered sitting an official exam?
An official certificate is a mark of quality and shows that you have achieved a certain level in the language you are learning. This means that universities and employers can be confident in your ability.
Exam preparation courses and official certificates are hugely popular among learners of English. For example, IELTS, TOEIC, TOEFL and the Cambridge certificates (FCE, CPE, CAE, etc) are seen as an important professional step and are highly sought-after by employers. You can find out more about the variety of English certificates on offer here.
If you want to study at a foreign university, you will almost certainly have to provide official documentation to show that your language skills meet local requirements. Typically, there will be a single, officially acknowledged exam for this purpose in each country.
An official certificate is an investment for your future and can give you the motivation to study and really tighten up your language skills. We offer a wide variety of exam preparation courses and a number of our partner schools are official examination centres.
The French Ministry of Education awards two diplomas for learners of French: the Diplôme d’Etudes de Langue Française (DELF) and the Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française (DALF). The DELF recognises basic and intermediate level French (A1 to B2 on the CEFR), the DALF is the continuation for advanced French.
A successfully-completed DALF qualification exempts you from having to sit language entrance exams if you wish to study at a French university.
The Goethe-Zertifikat (often just called Das Zertifikat) is the most widely-acknowledged German language certificate. It is awarded in six levels corresponding to the CEFR. A Zertfikat B2 will satisfy the language entry requirements for German university courses.
The exams are administered by the Goethe Institute, which is the not-for-profit body in charge of promoting German language and culture internationally.
The top-level German exams are legendarily tough and passing one of these will give you a huge advantage when applying for jobs in the German-speaking world. From January 2012, the Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom will become the new Kaiser of the German language exams, replacing the existing Goethe Certificate C2-level examinations: ZOP, Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom the Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom (GDS).
The Certificazione di Italiano come lingua straniera is issued by the Foreigners University of Siena and is recognised by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Rather like the French and German certificates, a CILS Due (B2) qualification will meet the language requirements of Italian universities.
Six exams are available, from A1 to C2 on the CEFR, but the most common are the B1, B2, C1 and C2, which correspond to the CILS Uno, Due, Tre and Quattro qualifications.
The exams traditionally take place each June and December and can be taken at centres around the world.
The Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi exams have been attempted well over 100,000,000 times and counting. The exams are divided into writing and speaking sections and are offered at regular intervals throughout the year, all over the world. After a reshaping at the end of 2009, the six levels of qualification now on offer now roughly approximate the CEFR levels.
The HSK is known all over China and universities will generally accept a level 3 (intermediate) exam for entry to courses taught in Chinese.
Issued by the Russian Ministry of Education, the TEOU (elementary level 1), TBOU (elementary level 2) and TRKI (4 levels ranging from intermediate to advanced Russian – B1 to C2 on the CEFR) are widely recognised in the Russian-speaking world.
The TBOU is the level required to attain Russian citizenship by naturalisation, the TRKI level 1 will get you into a Russian university, albeit with compulsory further language study until you can pass the TRKI level 2.
The exams are sometimes referred to as TORFL (Test of Russian as a Foreign Language) and can be taken three times a year at universities across Russia and Europe.
The Instituto Cervantes in partnership with the University of Salamanca and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of Spain offers the world-renowned DELE qualifications. For EU students, a DELE B2 certificate exempts you from having to sit language entrance exams at Spanish universities.
Six certificates, ranging from A1 to C2 on the CEFR, are available and the exam can be taken at official centres around the world.
That number is constantly in flux because we’re learning more about the world’s languages every day. And beyond that, the languages themselves are in flux. They’re living and dynamic, spoken by communities whose lives are shaped by our rapidly changing world. This is a fragile time: Roughly a third of languages are now endangered, often with less than 1,000 speakers remaining. Meanwhile, just 23 languages account for more than half the world’s population.
86% OF PEOPLE USE ASIAN OR EUROPEAN LANGUAGES
Most languages are densely concentrated in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. But how many people actually speak them? The vast majority of us use Asian or European languages, which may not be surprising given the sheer population of certain areas as well as colonial expansion in recent centuries. By contrast, Pacific languages – which account for 18.5% of the world’s languages – are spoken by so few people that the region barely even registers.
Pacific languages, along with North and South American, have just 1,000 speakers each on average. But together, they represent more than a third of our world’s languages. These tiny communities may not have a loud voice on the global stage, but they hold much of our shared linguistic heritage.
SOME COUNTRIES HAVE HUNDREDS OF LANGUAGES
Languages are spread unequally throughout the world. That trend is clear whether we’re looking at whole regions or individual countries.
More than twice the number of languages spoken across Europe can be found in Papua New Guinea alone.