Community Post: Things You May Not Know About 10 Foreign Languages

1. Arabic

Though the Arabic language contains long vowels and short vowels, the short vowels are typically not written. For example, the word for school, “madrasa,” would be written “mdrsa,” but speakers would know how to read it from the context. The picture above demonstrates how Arabic is written normally at the top, to how it is written in the Quran with short vowels included at the bottom. The Quran includes these extra markings so there is no mistake in pronunciation of the text.

2. Korean

Korean is often considered the most scientific writing system in the world. Unlike other languages, the Korean script was a deliberate invention by a king. The letters of the Korean alphabet are arranged into syllable blocks. The shapes of the letters are supposed to reflect the shape of the mouth when they are pronounced.

3. Japanese

The Japanese language makes use of 3 different writing systems: katakana, hiragana, and kanji. All 3 are combined in written Japanese. Katakana is often used for foreign words and onomatopoeia. Kanji are Chinese characters. Hiragana is used to write grammatical particles and native words for which there is no kanji, and to modify verbs and adjectives.

4. Chinese

Though there are many dialects of Chinese, the two most common are Mandarin and Cantonese. Each dialect may contain different “tones,” meaning the inflection of a word or syllable may change its meaning. The example above demonstrates a poem in which every syllable is pronounced “shi,” but the various tones make it a coherent story.

5. German

German is the only language in the world that requires capitalization of all nouns. German is also notorious for long words, due to the ease with which words may be compounded. For example, the word “Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft” translates to “Association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services.”

6. Farsi

Farsi, the Persian language, is spoken throughout Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Though it is written using a variant of the Arabic language, Farsi is actually an Indo-European language, making it more closely related to English than it is to Arabic.

7. Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian

These 3 languages are all similar enough that native speakers of each one can communicate with each other if they speak slowly. Spanish and Portuguese and particularly similar. Many Spanish speakers can easily read and understand Portuguese, and vice versa. The ridiculously catchy song above from Fast Five features both Spanish and Portuguese, but you can hardly tell.

8. Frisian

Frisian, along with Scots, is the closet living relative to English. Bet you didn’t know that! A sentence that is sometimes used to demonstrate the palpable similarity between Frisian and English is “Rye bread, butter and green cheese is good English and good Fries,” which sounds not tremendously different from “Brea, bûter en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk.”

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