Global Cooperation

There are 7,000 languages in use around the world - this is why they matter

blue, green, and yellow world map

2,895 languages are endangered today. Still, many endangered cross-border languages manage to thrive, promoting peace. Image: Unsplash/Andrew Stutesman

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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Education, Gender and Work

  • Most of the world speaks one of 20 languages.
  • Two-fifths of the world’s languages are poised to die out.
  • The UN says learning languages could help promote peace.

Of the more than 7,000 different languages in use around the world today, 41% are endangered. Some languages still thrive, however, when given the right conditions.

Endangered languages are those that are’t being taught or used by children in a community, according to Ethnologue, a research center for language intelligence that produces a regular index of the most and least spoken languages.

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Dominant languages are the most widely taught. So, despite China's population and status as a economic power, English has spread much further since it is studied by more people.

Number of countries in which this language is spoken
Number of countries that speak certain languages Image: Washington Post/Ethnologue

Indigenous languages, spoken by the fewest people, are often among the most endangered. Some might have just 1,000 speakers.

Still, along borders, some endangered languages find ways to thrive, according to UNESCO. Some of these languages include Kiswahili across sub-Saharan Africa and Quechua in South America.

English is by far the most common studied foreign language in the world.
Languages studied around the world Image: Washington Post

People in cross-border communities continue to use their languages daily through trade and communication. As a result, says UNESCO, regional traditions often remain intact, and local bonds can remain strong, promoting empathy and understanding.

Multi-lingual mother tongue-based education can foster further understanding. Currently, according to the UNESCO data, 40% of the world’s population cannot access education in a language they understand.

Progress in that area is being made. According to UNESCO, there’s a growing recognition of the importance of mother tongue-based multilingual education, especially in early schooling.

UNESCO says efforts in multi-lingual education can preserve indigenous heritage as well as "promote peaceful dialogue.”

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