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Valoración del conocimiento de las lenguas extranjeras como instrumento de comunicación entre las personas y los pueblos. Interés por la diversidad lingüística a través del conocimiento de una nueva lengua y su cultura.




  1. Introduction: language and languages.
  1. Languages in the world.

2.1. Language families.

2.2. The most spoken languages.

  1. The importance of a language as a means of communication.

3.1. Number of users.

3.2. Geographic distribution.

3.3. Social and cultural status.

  1. English: An international language.

4.1. Varieties of English.

4.1.a. Main English varieties.

4.1.b. Some formal differences.

4.2. Learning and teaching an international language.

4.2.a. Objective: effective communication.

4.2.b. Specific teaching and students’ needs.

4.2.c. Motivation and materials.

4.3. The cultural importance of English.

  1. Conclusions.
  1. Bibliography.



1. Introduction: language and languages.

To begin with, we should make a clear distinction between ‘language’ as an abstract notion, that is, the ability of human beings to communicate with each other through a system of oral and written signs, and ‘language’ as each one of the systems or codes used around the world, for instance, Spanish, English, Chinese, etc… In the field of Linguistics, the term ‘language’ has also a more specific and technical meaning. Ferdinand de Saussure (the “father” of modern Linguistics and linguistic Structuralism) distinguished between what he called, in French, ‘langue’ and ‘parole’. Thus, ‘language’ or ‘usage’ is the code, known and shared by the speakers of a particular language (Spanish, French…), which enables them to communicate with each other. On the other hand, ‘speech’ or ‘use’ refers to any single act of communication by means of that code. Thus, ‘language’ (‘usage’) is an abstract social entity, while ‘speech’ (‘use’) is material and personal, it is the materialisation of ‘language’.



2. Languages in the world.

Between three and four thousand languages are spoken in the world. It is quite difficult to give an accurate number because some regions in the world have not been studied in depth yet, and, particularly, because many linguistic varieties are difficult to classify within the blurry borders of theoretical categories such as ‘language’, ‘dialect’, ‘accent’, ‘speech’.


2.1. Language families.

Languages can be grouped into families. A language family is formed by all those languages which are historically related and have a common origin. For instance, all European languages (except Finnish, Hungarian and Basque), together with many Indian and Pakistani languages and also Persian, derive from Indo-European (a disappeared language reconstructed by linguist Franz Bopp at the beginning of the 19th century). Thus, these languages belong to the Indo-European family.


2.2 The most spoken languages.

Chinese has the largest number of native speakers: over 1,000 million.

English is the second, around 400 million native speakers, which is just one fifth of the total number of users in the world (about 2,000 million).

Spanish: over 300 million native speakers in the world.

Other languages spoken by millions are: Russian, Hindi, Japanese, Bengali, Arabic, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, etc.



3. The importance of a language as a means of communication.

From a human point of view, no matter how many or few people use it, whether it is an international language or a minor dialect, every language deserves and has the right (recognised by world organisations such as the UN) to our deepest respect and recognition.

People understand and explain reality through the language or languages they have acquired, which they perceive as part of their own identity. In this sense, no language is better or worse than any other. Moreover, it would be a serious violation of the Human Rights to force upon any community the use of a language which is not naturally spoken in that community.


3.1 Number of users.

According to this aspect, Chinese would be the most important language in the world, as we have already seen in section 2.2.

However, most Europeans and Americans, for example, would first learn other languages rather than Chinese. Why? Let’s consider the following aspects.


3.2 Geographic distribution.

Some languages, Chinese for example, are spoken in one single country  or state. Thus, their relevance and influence, in global terms, is not widespread.

English and Spanish, on the other hand, are spoken in many distant regions around the world. Furthermore, they are used (spoken, written, listened or read), especially English, for many practical purposes as international languages by non-native speakers.


3.3 Social and cultural status.

Language is a means of philosophical, scientific, technological and artistic-literary expression. In this sense, the importance of a language is defined by the number of works published, its use in the mass media (press, radio and television), films (original and dubbed versions), contexts in which it is used as an international non-biased code (international politics, scientific symposia…), etc… 




4.1 Varieties of English.

4.1.a. Main English varieties.

4.1.b. Some formal differences.

4.2 Learning and teaching an international language.

4.2.a.  Objective: effective communication.

4.2.b. Specific teaching and students’ needs.

4.2.c. Motivation and materials.

4.3 The cultural importance of English.

Traditionally, English literature has been extremely rich and influential,  with a large number of authors and an infinite amount of published works. Some of the most universal outstanding writers of all times have written in English: Shakespeare, Dickens, Joyce, Byron… 

American literature, younger and born from English literature, has also produced some of the most prominent figures in the history of literature, with an identity and a flavour of their own, genuinely American: Hemingway, Faulkner, Allan Poe, Whitman…. 



5. Conclusions: an “open” language. 

The reasons for English to have become so important can be found, to some extent, in the very attitude of its speakers. English has never been a “closed” language. In fact, it has borrowed from virtually all other languages. 

These words and forms have rapidly been adapted into the system and become the basis for the formation of new words. Thus, there is always a new word for a new reality, the system is always increasing, improving and recycling itself. English has also lent words and structures to other languages, the so-called anglicismos in Spanish.

Contrary to any notions of ‘purism’ or romantic considerations about language, let us not forget that a language is, first of all, a material code, an artefact for human beings to communicate and interact. Language behaves like a live being: if it did not adapt to an ever-changing world, its main function, communication, would not be properly fulfilled, then it would become gradually useless and eventually disappear. As a conclusion, we could recall the idea that English is the first language for its cultural importance and its number of users, places and contexts of use. It is followed by Spanish, which is steadily spreading and also has one of the richest cultural traditions in the world.

Finally, as we have suggested above, learning a language can be compared to having the key to open the door to a new culture. The more languages we speak, the more knowledge and understanding of our world we get. 

Languages are the first step towards a proper and reasonable interpretation of the world, towards communication between people and countries, in order to co-operate with each other in peace,  and discard certain primitive views that only lead to destructive attitudes such as racism, xenophobia, etc.




  • Lázaro, Fernando. Lengua española. Anaya, 1987, 1995.
  • Quirk, Randolph, and H. G. Widdowson,eds. 1985. English in the world: Teaching and learning the language and literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Saussure, Ferdinand de. (Translated and annotated by Roy Harris). Course in General Linguistics. Duckworth, London 1983.
  • Strevens, Peter. English as an international language. 1987.
  • Strevens, Peter. Standards and the standard language. English Today, 1985.
  • The Longman dictionary of English language and culture. Longman, 1998.
  • Documentación para el área de lenguas extranjeras en Enseñanza Primaria (cajas rojas). Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Madrid, 1992.
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