When I was in high school, I had a choice of several foreign languages that I could learn — Spanish, French, Italian, German, or Mandarin. As far as I knew, only one school had a bigger selection (in addition to our choices, they could also take Japanese). Now, I understand that those languages are logical choices because teaching materials exist and instructors can be found and they are major languages for international business and in some cases, also major languages in the United States.
But what a tiny portion of the world’s languages they represent! Have you ever thought about just how many languages there are in the world? And how many are being lost? Or how many are spoken by communities of people living in the US? Or how few of them most Americans can speak? or even recognize?
I am the first to admit my ignorance. Yesterday, I came across the Refugee Health Information Network (multicultural/multilingual health resources are fast becoming my new intellectual fascination). And do you know how many languages they produce information in? About 100. Think about how many that is — 100 different languages representing communities that the United States government recognizes as needing access to information in their home language.
Check out the list: Abkhaz, Acehnese, Achuar-Shiwiar, Afrikaans, Agaruna, Aja, Akuapen Twi, Albanian, Amahuaca, Amarakaeri, Amharic, Amuesha Yanesha, Anauk, Arabela, Arabic, Armenian, Assyrian, Azerbaijani, Belarussian, Bengali, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cambodian, Cantonese, Chin, Chin Hakha, Chinese, Croatian, Dongkha (Bhutanese), Farsi, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Gujarati, Haitian Creole, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Igbo, Ilokano, Indonesian (Malay), Italian, Japanese, Karen, Karen (S’ghaw), Kazakh, Khmer, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Korean, Kunama, Kurdish, lao, Laotian, Liberian, Maay Maay, Macedonian, Malayalam, Mandarin, Marathi, Marshallese, Mende, Mongolian, Montenegrin, Nepali, Nuer, Oromo, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Serbian, Serbo-Croatian, Shona, Slovak, Somali, Spanish, Sudanese, Swahili, Tagalog, Tamil (Malabar), Temne, Thai, Tibetan (Bhotia), Tigrinya, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Wolof, Yoruba