This short animated video explores the fundamental questions about the origin and function of language, and gives a quick introduction to the history and social significance of our communicative abilities.
If this piece has piqued your interest in the world of words, we have many language courses available for you to study. If you want to know more about the function and significance of language, we can particularly recommend the following courses:
This free course, Language in the real world, explains and illustrates why a knowledge about how language works (i.e. ‘linguistics’) is helpful – some might say essential – for different aspects of our everyday lives. It provides an introduction to ideas around what language is and to the field of Applied Linguistics, which is dedicated to exploring and addressing situations where language plays a crucial role.Learn more ❯Language in the real world
Grammar matters because, combined with vocabulary choice, it is our main way of making meaning. This free course introduces you to one approach used to understand how meanings relate systematically to different aspects of grammar and shows how this deeper understanding can be applied to make everyday communication more effective.Learn more ❯Grammar matters
Or, if you’re looking for a course to develop your skills in a language, these are some of our best options in a wide variety of languages, whether you’re a complete beginner or just a little out of practice:
This free course, Beginners' French: in the city, helps you to acquire the basic language to find your way around a French town. You will learn how to understand and give directions, ask about accommodation, book a hotel room at the tourist information office and get information about what to see and do in the local area. You will visit some museums in Avignon and buy a film for your camera. The course also deals with telling the time and making liaisons in speech. By the end of the course, you will feel more confident understanding and giving information about towns, seeking clarification and dealing with numbers. You will also have developed your oral fluency and your reading skills.Learn more ❯Beginners' French: in the city
Do you want to improve your language skills and communicate more easily and effectively in Spanish? This free course, Beginners’ Spanish: food and drink, focuses on buying and ordering food and drink at a restaurant or bar. You will be able to use some basic vocabulary relating to food, drinks, meals, quantities and measures. In this OpenLearn course you will listen to Spanish speakers in a variety of situations.Learn more ❯Beginners’ Spanish: food and drink
Do you want to learn the basics of the German language? This free course, Rundblick: beginners' German, will take you on a journey through German-speaking countries. You will read and hear about a range of places and people. This OpenLearn course will give you the opportunity to develop language skills which will help you to cope in a range of situations.Learn more ❯Rundblick: beginners' German
This free course, Beginners' Italian: food and drink, focuses on buying drinks and snacks in an Italian café, as well as on greeting and introducing yourself in Italian. It does not require any previous knowledge of Italian.Learn more ❯Beginners’ Italian: food and drink
Learn about Mandarin Chinese as a tool for communication and gain insights into Chinese society and culture. This free course, Beginners’ Chinese, provides a brief introduction to the Chinese language, its scripts and sounds, and how words are formed. You will hear short conversations where people greet each other, introduce themselves, describe where they come from and what they do for a living. You’ll hear them talk about their daily activities and order food and drinks in a restaurant. This OpenLearn course will be easily accessible for those with some basic knowledge of Chinese.Learn more ❯Beginners' Chinese
This free course, Croeso: Beginners' Welsh, is taken from Croeso, a beginners' language module that concentrates on Welsh as a tool for communication, but it also provides some insights into Welsh societies and cultures through printed and audio materials. It will be of interest to all those who want to improve their language skills in order to communicate more easily and effectively in Welsh. The course focuses on basic greetings and introductions, numbers and days of the week. By the end of the course you will have gained confidence in communicating in Welsh, and you will be able to understand language used by speakers from different areas of Wales. You will develop the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing in Welsh.Learn more ❯Croeso: Beginners' Welsh
This free course, Getting started on classical Latin, has been developed in response to requests from learners who had had no contact with Latin before and who felt they would like to spend a little time preparing for the kind of learning that studying a classical language involves. The course will give you a taster of what is involved in the very early stages of learning Latin and will offer you the opportunity to put in some early practice.Learn more ❯Getting started on classical Latin
English: skills for learning, is a free course for anybody who is thinking of studying for a university degree and would like to develop the English reading and writing skills needed to succeed. You will learn through a range of engaging activities aimed at extending your existing language skills.Learn more ❯English: skills for learning
Modern Scotland is a multi-lingual country. Gaelic, Scots and English, along with newer introductions from Europe and beyond, all influence the way Scotland's people now speak to each other and to the rest of the world. Created with the positive encouragement of Bòrd na Gàidhlig and with support from BBC Alba, this free course, Gaelic in modern Scotland, is available in both Gaelic and English. The course has been designed to provide a resource for people with a personal or professional interest in increasing their knowledge and understanding of the development and impact of Scottish Gaelic and its culture. It aims to surprise and challenge where necessary; to provide links and ideas for further research; and, for some, to kick-start a journey into learning a language which is integral to Scotland's national identity.Learn more ❯Gaelic in modern Scotland
These are our curated top picks, but much more can be found in the Languages section of the OpenLearn site.