Universiti Malaya – Wales

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By Aisha Qullatein

Hello, Ola, Bonjour, Merhaba, Salaam, Salut, Ndewo, Mambo, Ni Hao, Namaste …..

7 continents, 195 countries and over 6,500 beautiful languages shared – each and every one unique to its speakers. Language isn’t just about grammar and words, it’s also about how we communicate, how we express ourselves and how we convey our thoughts to others. Every language has its own beautiful history and origin which is then passed down through generations. Our languages are like a piece of our identity.

As the world grows, so does the adaptation of the global community. At IUMW we have students of over 45 different nationalities – making it a unique place of diversity and cultural inclusion. In this article, we would like to share some of the languages spoken by our very own international students.

Did you know, even though English is the universal second language, the most spoken language is actually Mandarin Chinese, and surprisingly, it is also said to be the hardest language to learn. What’s more interesting is that there are more second-language English speakers than those with English as their native language; in a total of 1.5 billion English speakers, and only 360 million are native speakers. This is because English is the most taught language and easily adaptable to those with a different mother-tongue.

I did a deep dive surf for different facts about African languages only to find one fact that had me both shocked and amused at the same time – although widely spoken as the national language in (only) 3 neighbouring countries, Swahili is registered to be the most commonly used language in Africa, even surpassing the largely adapted secondary languages like Arabic, French and English. How? I think it’s because it’s the easiest African language to learn – hakuna matata!

One more movie reference?

Ever watched “Black Panther” and wondered where Wakanda is or if that’s how Africa really looks? Well, sorry to say, but the media depiction of Africa and Wakanda isn’t real – it is just a made-up land ‘supposedly’ located at the northern border of Tanzania. However, have you noticed the clicky sound they make when speaking in their native language? Well, that is real. The cast were actually using real African dialects “Xhosa” (the X pronounced with a tongue click) and “Hausa”, widely spoken in Sub Saharan Africa.

Dubbed as one of the most beautiful languages in the world, Arabic has over 50 ways to express “love” and various ways to phrase a saying. For example, how one would simply wish a “goodnight” to someone in English, in Arabic it would be “tasbah ala kheyr” which translates to “May you wake up to the good”, to which one would respond with “w’anta/w’anti min ahloo (ahl-lkheyr)”, meaning “and may you be one of the good”. How beautiful is that?

Do you want to know why Arabic is written from right to left, unlike other languages?
This is because back in time, people used to carve planks for writing – using their right hand to hold the hammer and chisel with the left, making it easier to start from right to left. As it is also one of the oldest languages – dating as far back as AD 512, much of its vocabulary has been adapted into other languages like Spanish, Latin, Swahili, Portuguese, Urdu and many more – even English!

Another language with a beautiful structure? Hindi; specifically the Urdu dialect. With its graceful and poetic literature appreciated around the globe, Urdu touches the soul in a way no other language can. In fact, even English has borrowed a few words from the Urdu vocabulary like Pashmina, Typhoon (Toofan), Cummerbund (Kamar band) and Pyjamas. The language is so elegant in a way that even addressing someone has different ways of doing so – the word “you” becomes “aap” in formal terms and “tum” in informal terms. But it may get confusing – there is one word that is used for both yesterday and tomorrow (kal) – this is also the same case for the day before/day after and many past/future instances, it all comes down to the context it is used in.

But why are we only talking about languages spoken on earth – what about outer space? Just kidding! But, did you know that astronauts have to learn Russian as part of their space training? Other than being confused with the astrophysics rules, you’d have to remember that one word can either mean “I’m crying” or “I’m paying”, depending on how it’s pronounced. Additionally, in Russian – when thanking someone, one would say “?????´??” which was originally “????? ???” literally meaning god save – so the phrase of gratitude would actually be asking for God’s blessing upon that person.

Let’s end with some good news for the bilinguals; learning a second language has been proven to actually slow the ageing process – this comes from the constant memorising and acclimation which improves memory which can also delay dementia diagnosis by several years. Good news indeed.