Language is the means of
communication. The most common way of expressing an idea for people is to say
it out loud. Language enables people to understand each other. At the same
moment language can be a major barrier to understanding because there are
thousands of different languages on our planet. From the earliest time, with
the development of trade and exchange of ideas and techniques people saw the
necessity of learning foreign languages. Egyptian pharaohs had scribes and
interpreters at their disposal.
A language that is used as a means
of communication by people of different nations is called international.
International language helps people of different nations to understand each
other. Different epochs had different international languages. As a rule the
existence of the language as an international one is determined by political,
cultural and economic development of the country which language is spoken as
International language is not the
phenomenon of our age only. The first international language appeared on the
Earth with the birth of civilisation. The Biblical myth about the mixture of
languages during the construction of the Babylon Tower, when the people lost
their universal language and thus could not communicate, was a reflection of
how dearly the people of ancient periods held the gift of speech and
understanding. Ever since those times the foreign languages and people who knew
them played a significant part in the development of international relations
and trade of different countries.
The first international language
that we know about was the language of the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were a
nation of industrious merchants and brave seafarers who settled originally on
the territory of the Lebanon. Their trading ships travelled across the
Mediterranean, they often appeared in Egypt, Italy, and Greece, they voyaged
across the Indian and Atlantic oceans. They were the first to round the Cape of
Good Hope, the southernmost point of Africa. The Phoenicians were the first to
create the alphabet, that later was borrowed by the Greeks. It is not
surprising in this context that Phoenician was the international language for
The Greek language replaced
Phoenician as a means of international communication. After the military
expeditions of Alexander of Macedonia the Greek language won recognition all
over Asia. The Greek culture and language were imposed in all Hellenistic
centres and states, including Egypt, Syria and Persia. The Romans went a little
further. The Roman legionary marched to the ends of the earth carrying Latin,
their language, with the help of their orators and philosophers to Europe,
Asia, and Africa. From that time on the role of languages in the historical
development of humanity has increased. Latin survived the collapse of the Roman
Empire. Until the establishment of national states, new national languages that
originated from Latin (French, Spanish, and Italian) were still emerging. In
such circumstances although the native speakers of Latin were gone, it was a
universal language of Mediaeval Europe for fifteen centuries. In Europe Latin
was used for the serious business of government, diplomacy, and philosophy. A
person who did not know Latin was unable to become educated because Latin was
also the language of the Universities. In the Middle Ages students and
professors travelled from one country to another, from one University to
another, and nowhere they had any difficulties in understanding their
colleagues and friends as all lectures were delivered in Latin.
Then with the emergence of national
states and development of national languages the need to learn foreign
languages became especially acute. Besides classical languages modern languages
were introduced in the list of school studies. Educated people of Europe were
to know several modern languages. For example, Rubens, the greatest painter of
the Western civilisation who lived in Flanders in the 17-th century, spoke and
wrote six modern languages.
It should be said that not all the
languages had equal importance in different centuries in the world. Preference
was given to that one which country was more powerful at that time. In the
15-th and 16-th centuries Spain was in the vanguard of European and world
expansion and the Spanish language could be heard in the far reaches of our
planet. French became the dominant language of the Western world in the 17-th
and 19-th centuries. In the 19-th century French was the official language of
our country. Since childhood Russian aristocrats were learning French. For
example, Pushkin wrote his first poem in French. Russian was spoken only by
In the first half of the 20-th
century, during the period between two World Wars, English started gradually to
replace French as the international language. Moreover, in the second half of
the 20-th century the United States became the world's dominant power. The USA
had enormous political, economic and cultural influence on the Western world.
It is interesting to note that
before English emerged from lots of dialects, French had been the language of
the English court and of the educated classes for three centuries since the
Norman conquest. It was Chaucer who chose English for his book "Canterbury
Tales" and thereby helped decide the language in which England's
literature would be written in centuries to come. In the 16-th century
Shakespeare used over 29,000 English words, many invented by himself. Germanic
in origin English has words come from other sources, the result is an
astonishingly wide vocabulary acquired quite early in its history. Now English
is the language of unparalleled richness, subtlety and variety, which unlocks
the treasures of the literature second to none in the world.
The transition from French to
English as the international language was relatively easy because in many
countries of the world people already knew English by that time. The British
Empire brought English not only in the North America, but in the Australia,
Africa, and India as well. The leadership of English in the modern world can be
explained by numerous factors. Over 300 million people who live in Great
Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America speak English
is as a native tongue. English is one of the official languages in the Irish
Republic, Canada, the South African Republic. It is also the second official
language used in the former British and U.S. colonies. English is one of the
official languages of the United Nations Organisation and other political
organisations. It is the language of literature, education, modern music,
The dominance of English in the
contemporary world is explained by the appearance of lots of people who want to
learn English not for pleasure or prestige but because English has become the
key to international scientific, technological and commercial innovations of
Previously the reason for learning
any foreign language was not well defined. Knowledge of foreign languages was
regarded as a sign of a well-rounded education, but few had really questioned
why it was necessary. The problem of learning languages is very important
today, Foreign languages are socially demanded especially at the present time
when the progress in science and technology has led to an explosion of
knowledge. The total knowledge of mankind doubles every seven years. English is
needed as the main and the most efficient means of information exchange. With
the acceptance of English as the international language of technology and
commerce appears a new generation of people who know why they are learning the
language. Scientists and scholars need it to keep up with developments in their
fields. Many students need English because their course of studies includes
textbooks avail able only in English. Young people around the world need
English in order to be able to use the Internet, communicate with their
partners in other countries, understand films and songs.
Unfortunately, there is no universal
or ideal method of learning languages. Everybody has his own way. Sometimes it
is boring to study grammar or learn new words. But it is well known that
reading books in the original, listening to the BBC news, communicating with
native speakers will help a lot. When learning a foreign language one learns
the culture and history of the native speakers. One must work hard to learn any
- When do children start learning
foreign languages in Russia?
- Much depends on the parents. Some
children start to learn foreign languages very early, in kindergartens for
example. They are taught ABC English there: they sing songs, recite nursery
rhymes and learn to construct some phrases. Others start learning languages at
school. At some specialised schools foreign languages are taught from the
second to the eleventh class. But generally pupils learn foreign languages from
the fifth to the eleventh class.
- Are foreign languages included in
- Many Universities include foreign
languages in entrance exams. Students who specialise in humanities, such as
History, Sociology, and Philosophy need to know foreign languages for their
- Why do people learn foreign
languages in Russia?
- Russia is integrating into the
world community and the problem of learning English for the purpose of
communication is especially urgent today. In Russia people learn English to be
able to exchange the latest information concerning science, technology and
commerce with their colleagues; to be able to read foreign newspapers and
books. Learning foreign languages is especially popular among young people. For
them English is a way of exploring a completely new world. A person who travels
a lot also needs English. Even in the countries where English is not an
official language people will generally be able to understand it.
- In how many countries is English
the official language?
- English is the official language
of some thirty states which represent different cultures. Many countries, which
have more than one official language have English among other official
- What is a distinguishing feature
- English belongs to a group of
Germanic languages. Thus German is relatively close to English. At the same
time England had numerous contacts with France, so French had tremendous
influence on English. Today a person who knows both English and French will
easily find numerous similarities in these languages. Those who already know
English will have less difficulties learning French.
- Is English an easy language to
- Yes, it is. Basically English is
an easier language to learn than almost any other language. Its grammar is not
difficult at all.
- What do you think is the most
difficult about English?
- The richness of the vocabulary
makes English a difficult language. Moreover, spelling and pronunciation make
trouble. An other thing is that Russian and English are very different. It is
not easy for a Russian to learn how to use definite and indefinite articles properly
because there are no articles in Russian. In this context it should be said
that the Germans and the French have less difficulties with English.
- Why are foreign languages
important for specialists?
- Specialist should know foreign
languages to communicate with their colleagues at the conferences, through
books and journals or the Internet. Today it is not enough for a professional
to know only one foreign language. That is why many young people who begin to
think about their future early start learning several languages. For Russian
specialists it is good to know not only English, but German and French as well.
Undoubtedly, English is number one language that specialists should learn.
- What kind of foreign language do
specialists have to know?
- Specialists have to know that kind
of English which will help them to solve their professional problems. They need
English for specific purposes. It has been established that there are important
differences between, say, the English of commerce and that of engineering. That
is why a great deal of English courses for specific groups of learners have
been developed. The discovery that language varies from one situation of use to
another allowed to determine the features of the specific situations making
them the basis of the learners course. Today specialist of different branches
of sciences and professionals can learn English for their specific purposes.
Nowadays there are English courses for Biology, Geography, Law, History,
Mathematics, Medicine, Economy, and other sciences.
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