Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English– the show that brings you an interesting topic, authentic listening practice and vocabulary to help you improve your language skills. I'm Rob… Watashi no namae wa Neil desu. And that means 'my name's Neil'. So Neil, here's a question for you – can you speak any languages other than English of course? I think you can! Un poco de español that means a little bit of Spanish. Some Japanese, which I tried at the beginning and also a bit of Czech language - Dobrý den, jak se máš? Very impressive. So what tips can you give for learning to speak another language? Well, practise, practise, practise – and don't be afraid of making mistakes as I no doubt have. Of course. Well my aim this year is to master the Spanish language. Master means to learn thoroughly. Muy bien! Well you're not alone. A survey by the British Council found learning a language is a new year's resolution for about one in five Britons in 2018. So learning Spanish is a good start Rob but do you know approximately how many languages there are in the world altogether? Are there… a) 70 b) 700 c) 7,000 Well I know there are many but surely not 7,000 so I'm going to say b) 700 – but don't expect me to learn all of them. I won't Rob. But I will give you the answer later. So, we all know learning another language is a good thing – it brings us many benefits. Yes, we can communicate with people from other countries and when we're travelling we can understand what signs and notices say. So we don't get lost. That's right – but many scientists also believe that knowledge of another language can boost your brainpower. A study of monolingual and bilingual speakers suggests speaking two languages can help slow down the brain's decline with age. All good reasons. But Neil, learning another language is hard. It would take me years and years to become fluent in say, Mandarin – by fluent I mean speak very well, without difficulty. Well this depends on your mother tongue. In general, the closer the second language is to the learner's native tongue and culture in terms of vocabulary, sounds or sentence structure - the easier it will be to learn. But whatever the language, there is so much vocabulary to learn – you know, thousands and thousands of words. Maybe not Rob. Professor Stuart Webb, a linguist from the University of Western Ontario, may be able to help you. He spoke to BBC Radio 4's More or Less programme and explained that you don't need to do that… For language learners in a foreign language setting – so for example, if you were learning French in Britain or English in Japan, students may often really struggle to learn more than 2,000, 3,000 words after many years of study. So for example, there was a study in Taiwan recently that showed that after nine years of study about half of the students had still failed to learn the most frequent 1,000 words. Now they knew lower frequency words but they hadn't mastered those most important words. So Rob, don't waste your time trying to learn every single word. Professor Webb spoke there about research that showed students knew lower frequency words but weren't learning enough high-frequency words. Right, and frequency here means the number of times something happens – so the important words to learn are the high-frequency ones – and how many are there exactly? Here's Professor Stuart Webb again… For example, with English, I would suggest if you learn the 800 most frequent lemmas – which is a word and its inflections – that will account for about 75 per cent of all of the English language. So that learning those 800 words first will provide the foundation for which you may be able to learn the lower frequency words. Fascinating stuff. And good to know I just need to learn about 800 words – or what he calls lemmas. Yes, a lemma is the simplest form or base form of a word. And the inflection here refers to how the base word is changed according to its use in a sentence. Knowing these things give you a foundation – the basics from which you language learning will develop. Simple Thank goodness I am learning just one new language! But how many languages could you potentially be learning Rob? Earlier I asked you, approximately how many languages there are in the world altogether? Are there… a) 70 b) 700 c) 7,000 And I said 700. Was I right? No Rob, you were wrong. There are around 7,000 recognised languages in the world but UNESCO has identified 2,500 languages which it claims are at risk of extinction. A sobering thought Neil. Now shall we remind ourselves of some of the English vocabulary we've heard today. Starting with master. To master a new skill, in this context, means to learn thoroughly or learn well. "Rob hopes to master Spanish before he starts a new job in Madrid." That's news to me Neil! But it would be good to be fluent in Spanish – or any language – or to speak it fluently – that's speaking it well and without difficulty. Now our next word was frequency. Here we are referring to high and low frequency words – so it means how often they occur. Examples of a high frequency word are 'it', 'the' and 'and'. And our next word is inflections. These are the changes to the basic form of words according to their function in a sentence. Such as adding an 's' to the end of a word to make it plural. And don't forget lemma which is the simplest form or base form of a word before an inflection is added. And finally foundation which means the basics your learning grows from. That just leaves me to remind you that you can learn English with us at bbclearningenglish.com. That's it for today's 6 Minute English. We hope you enjoyed it. Bye for now. Na shledanou. Hasta luego. Ja-ne. And in English, goodbye. Goodbye. Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. I'm Neil. And I'm Georgina Can I ask you something, Georgina…? Mm-mm-hmm. Georgina? I said, I want to ask you something… are you listening to me?! Mm-hmm, just a second, Neil, I'm texting a friend… Ah, has this ever happened you? Someone too busy texting to talk. With the huge rise of mobile phones in recent decades, communicating by text has become more and more popular and scenes like this have become increasingly common. …and send! There, all done! Now, what were you saying, Neil? In this programme, we'll be investigating why people often choose to text, instead of talk to the people in their lives. We'll be asking whether this popular form of communication is changing how we interact with each other. And, of course, we'll be learning some related vocabulary as well. Now, Neil, what did you want to ask me? My quiz question, Georgina, which is this. Young people are often the biggest users of mobile phones, but in a 2016 study, what percentage of British teenagers said they would prefer to send a text rather than speak to someone, even if they were in the same room? Is it: a) 9 percent?, b) 49 percent?, or, c) 99 percent? That sounds pretty shocking! I can't believe 99 percent of teenagers said that, so I'll guess b) 49 percent. OK, Georgina. We'll find out later if that's right. In one way, the popularity of texting, sometimes called 'talking with thumbs', is understandable - people like to be in control of what they say. But this low-risk way of hiding behind a screen may come at a cost, as neuroscientist, Professor Sophie Scott, explained to Sandra Kanthal, for BBC World Service programme, The Why Factor: When we 'talk with our thumbs' by text or email or instant message, we're often prioritising speed over clarity and depth. But when we can't hear the way someone is speaking it's all too easy to misunderstand their intention. So if I say a phrase like, 'Oh shut up!' - has a different meaning than, 'Oh shut up!' There's an emotional thing there but also a strong kind of intonation: one's sort of funny, one's just aggressive. Written down it's just aggressive – 'Shut up!' - and you can't soften that. […] We always speak with melody and intonation to our voice and we'll change our meaning depending on that. You take that channel of information out of communication you lose another way that sense is being conveyed. When reading a text instead of listening to someone speak, we miss out on the speaker's intonation – that's the way the voice rises and falls when speaking. Intonation, how a word is said, often changes the meaning of words and phrases - small groups of words people use to say something particular. Reading a phrase like, 'Oh shut up!' in a text, instead of hearing it spoken aloud, makes it easy to misunderstand the speaker's intention – their aim, or plan of what they want to do. And it's not just the speaker's intention that we miss. A whole range of extra information is conveyed through speech, from the speaker's age and gender to the region they're from. Poet, Gary Turk, believes that we lose something uniquely human when we stop talking. And there are practical problems involved with texting too, as he explains to BBC World Service's, The Why Factor: If you speak to someone in person and they don't respond right away, that would be rude. But you might be speaking to someone in person and someone texts you... and it would be ruder for you then to stop that conversation and speak to the person over text… yet the person on the other side of the text is getting annoyed – you haven't responded right way – it's like we're constantly now creating these situations using our phones that allow us to like tread on mines – no matter what you do, we're going to disappoint people because we're trying to communicate in so many different ways. Do you prioritise the person on the phone? Would you prioritise the person you're speaking to? Who do you disappoint first? You're going to disappoint somebody. So what should you do if a friend texts you when you're already speaking to someone else in person – physically present, face to face? You can't communicate with both people at the same time, so whatever you do someone will get annoyed – become angry and upset. Gary thinks that despite its convenience, texting creates situations where we have to tread on mines, another way of saying that something is a minefield, meaning a situation full of hidden problems and dangers, where people need to take care. Yes, it's easy to get annoyed when someone ignores you to text their friend… Oh, you're not still upset about that are you, Neil? Ha, it's like those teenagers in my quiz question! Remember I asked you how many teenagers said they'd prefer to text someone, even if they were in the same room. I guessed it was b) 49 percent. Which was… the correct answer! I'm glad you were listening, Georgina, and not texting! Ha ha! In this programme we've been discussing ways in which texting differs from talking with someone in person – or face to face. Sending texts instead of having a conversation means we don't hear the speaker's intonation – the musical way their voice rises and falls. A phrase - or small group of words - like 'Oh shut up!', means different things when said in different ways. Without intonation we can easily misunderstand a text writer's intention – their idea or plan of what they are going to do. Which in turns means they can get annoyed – or become irritated, if you don't understand what they mean, or don't respond right away. All of which can create an absolute minefield – a situation with many hidden problems, where you need to speak and act carefully. And that's all we have time for in this programme, but remember you can find more useful vocabulary, trending topics and help with your language learning here at BBC Learning English. We also have an app that you can download for free from the app stores and of course we are all over social media. Bye for now! Bye! Hello. This is 6 Minute English. I'm Neil. And I'm Sam. Now Sam, I assume that you know your alphabet. Of course, Neil – you mean my ABCs? We learn that at a very young age, you know? Sorry to sound patronising. But you do you know why the letters in the alphabet are in that particular order? No, I don't. That's really interesting. Why? I don't know either, I was hoping you might! But seriously, no one really knows how the order became established. However, some research has shown that if your surname, your family name, begins with a letter later in the alphabet, you could be at a disadvantage at school and in life. Before we get in to that though, a question. Where does the alphabet come from in its earliest form? Was it… a) Ancient Egypt b) Ancient Greece c) Ancient Rome What do you think, Sam? Well, we refer to the English alphabet as having Roman characters, so I'm going with Ancient Rome. OK. I'll have the answer later in the programme. In the BBC radio programme Fry's English Delight there was a feature about the alphabet and how it can have a negative impact on your school life. Can you remember all those years ago when you were at school? What's the first thing that the teacher would do at the beginning of the day? She would take the register – that's what we call it in the UK. You can also call it the roll call. Yes, this is when the teacher calls out the names of the students to check that they are all there. This is where the problem starts, according to, ironically, Professor Jeffrey Zax, from the University of Colorado. The further down that list your name is, the less noticed you are by the teacher. Why is that? Here's Professor Zax. When it begins people are paying attention. As it proceeds, first the people who are already called, they no longer have any need to take things seriously. And the people who are waiting to be called, their attention is wandering as well. And so as you make your way through the roll call somehow the intensity of the engagement diminishes. So, what is the problem? Well, it's a lot to do with paying attention. This means concentrating on something. At the beginning of the roll call everyone is paying attention - they are quiet and listening. But after the first names are called, those students don't need to pay attention any more. So they lose a bit of interest in what comes next, and the students later in the list are also now distracted and the teacher, him or herself, is not so focussed. And by the end of the list the relationship between the teacher and the students whose names are being called later is not as strong as those at the beginning of the list. Professor Zax describes this by saying that the intensity of the engagement diminishes. Diminishes means 'gets weaker', and the intensity of the engagement is the strength of the communication, the level of enthusiasm for being involved. So this is the start of the disadvantage which can subtly affect students throughout their school years and after. This was discovered after some research in the US in the 1950s. So what were these disadvantages? Here's Professor Zax again. They were less likely to have enjoyed their high school courses, graduate from college if they applied. They were more likely to drop out. They had first jobs in occupations that paid less. They were more likely to go to the military and they were more likely to have jobs whose prestige was lower. So what disadvantages did they have? Well, Professor Zax says that the research showed they enjoyed school less, were less successful academically and more likely to drop out of college or university. This means that they left the course before it was finished. And he also said that they were more likely to find jobs that had a lower prestige. This means the jobs weren't seen as high status or desirable. Let's listen again. They were less likely to have enjoyed their high school courses, graduate from college if they applied. They were more likely to drop out. They had first jobs in occupations that paid less. They were more likely to go to the military and they were more likely to have jobs whose prestige was lower. Well, Professor Zax seems to have done OK. Even with that surname! Indeed, I guess this doesn't apply to everyone. Right, well before we remind ourselves of our vocabulary, let's get the answer to the question. Where does the alphabet come from in its earliest form? Was it… a) Ancient Egypt b) Ancient Greece c) Ancient Rome Sam, what did you say? Pretty sure it's Ancient Rome. What does your surname begin with?