1. Have students read a passage about languages of Europe.
Introduce the vocabulary term language family. A language family is a "group of languages with a common ancestry and similar words." Tell students that Indo-European is the largest and most widespread language family. It is the primary language family in the United States. Divide students into pairs. Distribute a copy of the handout Languages of Europe to each pair. Have partners read the passage and sketch a diagram of the Indo-European language family tree. Answer any questions they may have.
2. Have students compare and contrast maps of language groups and political boundaries.
Distribute copies of the worksheet Mapping the Languages of Europe and the maps Country Borders in Europe and Dominant Languages of Europe. Have students complete the worksheet by comparing and contrasting language groups and political boundaries. As you walk around the class, check for student understanding of language groups.
3. Have a whole-class discussion about the languages of Europe.
Regroup as a whole class and discuss what students noticed as they compared and contrasted. Ask:
- Are there more or fewer language groups than you expected? Explain.
- Within each language group, there are many dialects of each language. So even within the groups there are differences. Do you think these divisions within groups are also important? Why or why not?
- Why do you think language is important to groups and regions?
- Is a common language necessary? Why or why not?
Have students apply these ideas about groups and regions to the issue of human migration. Ask students to write about what it would be like for a group of people to move into a region where the rest of the population spoke a different language. Have them include details about the difficulties the new group would face and what choices the people within that region could make about how to handle the newcomers.
Extending the Learning
Remind students that language diversity in Europe is steeped in the history of the region. Discuss the past and growing language diversity in your local area or state and the United States. Ask: What are the pros of increasing language diversity? What are the cons? How does ethnic diversity impact our state and our community?
Subjects & Disciplines
- English Language Arts
- name and describe languages spoken in Europe
- analyze maps to identify regions where languages and country borders do not correspond
- Cooperative learning
Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices
IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts
- Standard 9: Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
National Council for Social Studies Curriculum Standards
National Geography Standards
- Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information
- Standard 10: The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics
- Standard 13: How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface
- Standard 4: The physical and human characteristics of places
What You’ll Need
Materials You Provide
The resources are also available at the top of the page.
- Internet Access: Optional
- Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector
- Large-group instruction
- Small-group instruction
Although small in area, Europe has been a world interaction zone of people and cultures. A key cultural component that shapes national and cultural identity in Europe is language. There are over 30 languages spoken in Europe today. Most Europeans speak an Indo-European language. Indo-European languages developed during the Neolithic times in the Middle East. Through immigration, they spread into Europe and displaced/drove out the languages that were originally spoken on the continent. There are six Indo-European languages spoken by millions of people in Europe today, including: Hellenic (Greek); Romance (Latin-based languages of the Mediterranean and Romanian); Celtic (largely extinct, but Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton); Germanic (Scandinavian languages, modern German, Dutch, and English); Balto-Slavonic; and Illyrian-Thracian (Albanian). There are also several prominent non-Indo-European languages in Europe. These languages belong to their own language families, including the: Uralic family (Finn-Ugric); Semitic family (Arabic and Hebrew); Altaic family (Turkish); and Basque (unknown origin).
Languages are evolving in Europe at an incredibly rapid rate—just as English is evolving in the United States. Developments such as text messaging and the Internet are creating new methods of communication in all languages. Many European languages have seen an influx of English words due to the rise of the Internet and diffusion of technology with English names. For example, since the rise of the Internet, Hungarian has adopted the words email and Internet, as well as added verbs that mean to email and to go on the Internet (emailezik and internetezik respectively).
Recommended Prior Activities
natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.
geographic territory with a distinct name, flag, population, boundaries, and government.
distinct variation of a language, usually marked by accents and grammar.
having to do with characteristics of a group of people linked by shared culture, language, national origin, or other marker.
able to speak, write, and understand a language.
the movement of people from one place to another.
set of sounds, gestures, or symbols that allows people to communicate.
group of languages descended from a common ancestral language.
total number of people or organisms in a particular area.
any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.
- NG MapMaker 1-Page Map: Europe
- National Geographic Education: Europe MapMaker Kit
- NG MapMaker Interactive: Europe