Languages on Their Death Bed

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 19, 2009 1 min read
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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I try to draw your attention to efforts to support students in maintaining and improving their native languages.

UNESCO released an online publication today that helps educators and everyone else identify just how serious the problem is of the continuing disappearance of some of the world’s languages. The publication is the electronic version of the new edition of UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing. The atlas gives information for about 2,500 endangered languages around the world. For example, 199 have fewer than ten speakers.

The on-line atlas includes a really neat interactive map in which you can type in the name of a country and see where in that country people live who speak an endangered language. Data about the language also pops up on the screen.

The atlas ranks languages according to six categories, ranging from “safe,” which means the language is spoken by all generations, to “extinct.”

I think the resource could provide an opportunity for a “language appreciation” activity in the English-as-a-second-language classroom. Students could research languages spoken in a particular part of the world and share what they learn with their peers. Students could also research and talk about their native languages.

The Center for Applied Linguistics supports educators who are interested in helping students to retain languages other than English that they may speak, or are at least exposed to, at home.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.