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Mindy Learns (part two)

My name is Mindy. I live with my Mommy and my Meme. I have a big brother named Gary. He's in college. I just started first grade. I can already read a little because my Mommy always read to me at night and I learned some words. They're things made of letters. Letters are little black squiggles and when you put them together they make words that mean things. At school they are white squiggles on the blackboard. So I can read some words. That means I know what they mean. Not all the other kids know how to read words. Mommy says I'm bright, but to not be proud. Some people don't have all that we have so maybe they can't learn as much. But I like to read, and I'm learning more every day in school.

When my brother Gary comes home from college he talks to me about reading and what he calls language. Our language is what we talk. We talk English. That's a language. Some of the kids in school can talk other languages. Gary says speak. My friend Paula can speak Spanish. That's another language. Many people in our town speak Spanish now, but they can speak English too. But their English sounds different than my English or Mommy's English. Gary says they have an accent. That means they speak a language in a little different way because of the way they speak their first language. I can only speak English, but I want to learn more.
Languages all work a little differently. And some don't use letters and words. Letters are also called symbols. Symbols have a meaning, Gary says. Other people my not use letters and words but other kinds of symbols to write their language down. It's very complicated. But it's not funny. I thought it was funny but Gary said no. He said maybe it was funny different, but not funny haha. He's so silly. But I know what he means.

Gary gave me an example of the way people speak a different language with an accent because of the way their first language works. So he said to me that Meme was from Canada. She spoke French there. That's another language. Meme can speak English now, but she still has an accent. When she speaks English she says things in some of the same ways she would say them in French. When she calls me and Gary in to dinner she says, "You kid come in to eat." She means "kids" but in French if there is an "s" at the end of a word you don't say it. It is silent, Gary says. So Meme just leaves the sound off. It is funny different. It gets more complicated but Gary said it was just an example.

We have a letter in English called "z" and they have it in Spanish too. Did you know that every person speaking Spanish the right way will always say the "z" with an "s" sound? Gary told me that. So if a Spanish person said the word Zorro, you know, the masked guy? If they said that they would say "Sorro" because they always say "z" as if it were an "s." That is funny different too. But when we say these Spanish words with a "z" in them we always make them a "z" sound. That could be wrong. I have to think about it.

Gary tells me that the only difference between some languages is that they use different symbols when they write them down. He says that there are two languages in India that are called Hindi and Urdu. People who speak Hindi can understand people who speak Urdu because they are very much the same. Only some words are different. The big difference is that they use different ways to write them down. That's funny different, too. But Gary says it is complicated because of the people involved. It's what he calls a controversy.

Languages often cause a controversy. Some languages have even been completely destroyed because the people in charge don't want the people they are ruling to speak a different language. It's bad. Because some languages are extinct now. That means they don't exist. It's very much like how a species of animal may get extinct and not exist anymore. There were dinosaurs a long time ago. But they are all extinct.

Here in our country we had people here before most of us came from across the ocean. Gary says they're called Native Americans. They all spoke languages of course. They had different groups called tribes and they would speak different languages. The people in charge were usually from the continent of Europe before they came here and took over. They fought against the Native Americans and pretty much all of these people lost. So they were ruled. They were made to change. They had to learn the European languages. They lost their own languages. So many are now extinct. I think it's a pity. So does Gary.

But we are lucky that a lot of the Native American languages are now being learned by the young people again. They are returning to their own culture. That's the way people think and act in their own groups. Some cultures are good and some are bad. That's what Gary says, but everyone should be able to choose their own culture and their own language. What's really bad is when people are not allowed to change their language or culture because their families or neighbors won't let them. They should be able to choose. That's called freedom.

Gary says that many languages are now extinct. There are even some languages that the people can't write down because no one has figured out a way to do that. But there are lots of nice people trying to make a way to write all the languages in the world. And they're trying to get more people to learn languages that they are afraid will be extinct very soon. There have been thousands and thousands of languages, just like there have been thousands and thousands of species of animals and plants. I hate to think of anything going extinct. Especially not kittens or my language English.

I asked Gary and he told me that kittens and English will always be here. I'm glad.

I think learning about new cultures and languages is a good thing. Don't you?

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