Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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27-Feb-2004

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What languages will the world speak in 50 years?



Around the world, “science” goes by many names [from left to right, in descending rows: Japanese, German, Bengali (Roman script), Bahasa Malaysia, Bengali (Bengali script), Tamil, Cherokee, Swahili, Asante Twi, Hindi, Finnish, Slovak, Albanian, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Tibetan, Russian, Dutch, Malayalam, Chinese, Hebrew, Hawaiian, and Swedish].
Click here for a full image.

In fifty years, you might be searching for the coolest new fonts for Mandarin, Hindi and Arabic so you can communicate stylishly with people speaking the world's most common native languages.



The changing percentage of the world's population speaking English, Spanish, Hindi/Urdu, and Arabic. Image © Science.
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The percentage of the world's population that speaks English as its first language is actually declining, according to an article on the future of language, which appears in the 27 February issue of Science.

Author David Graddol of the English Company (UK) Ltd. predicts that by 2050 more people will speak Chinese, Hindi (and its close relative, Urdu) or Arabic as a first language than English.

In 1995, English was second only to Chinese as the most common language in the world, in terms of native speakers.



Percentage of European Union populations claiming they speak English. [Image © Science]
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But, it will probably drop down to be the fourth-most-common language in 50 years, Graddol explains in his article.

Three languages that aren't near the top of the list now may be there soon. The languages growing the most rapidly are Bengali, Tamil and Malay, which are spoken in various countries in South and Southeast Asia.

In the future, more people will speak more than one language, Graddol predicts. English will often be one of those languages, but the Mandarin form of Chinese will probably be the next "must-learn" language, especially in Asia.

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