If there’s one thing we’ve all realised this past year, it’s that time is precious. 2020 may have slipped by in a blur for some, but the current climate we are living in has undoubtedly left a lot of us with a lot more time to ourselves, whether we wanted it or not. While some of us may be content to fill our weekends bingeing the latest boxsets on Netflix (this author included!), it has raised the question of whether we should be using this time more wisely, to take up lockdown learning. For example, maybe time to learn a new skill such as a foreign language.
Why learn a new language?
The benefits of lockdown learning a second language are countless:
- increased confidence and communication skills (in your native tongue too)
- improved cognitive function – it has been proven that bilinguals outperform monolinguals on both verbal and nonverbal tests of intelligence, and they can experience a significantly delayed onset of Alzheimer’s compared to monolingual subjects (on average, 4½ years later)
- widening your travel horizons (in 2030 or whenever we can holiday again)! Speaking the local language of your chosen holiday destination can get you off the beaten tourist path and allow you to explore its hidden gems and more “local” hotspots that would otherwise have been overlooked. And, more importantly, meet and befriend some of the locals themselves!
- an added advantage in your career if you work for an international company, are looking to break into the global market or deal with foreign clients (or even if you don’t, many employers see a second language as a huge benefit to their workforce so it is still likely to increase employability and salary prospects)
Who can learn a new language?
If you’re thinking, “I’m too old for this”, then fear not, it’s never too late to learn a new language. While adults may learn languages more systematically compared to children who can pick them up organically, all it takes is a little perseverance and a willingness to completely embarrass yourself. Embrace a new language by learning in lockdown
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
They are a vital part of the process. Ultimately, we are all reverted to childhood during language learning and have to learn by trial and error. If you are trying to communicate with someone in their native tongue, often they will be more impressed that you gave it a go (dodgy accent and grammar mistakes included), as opposed to simply expecting them to understand your native language.
How to learn a new language?
With a multitude of online resources at our fingertips, language learning is no longer constrained to the classroom. Apps such as Duolingo and Babbel allow you to learn at your pace and promote the adage of “little and often”, with bite-sized lessons each day to help keep you motivated and engaged. Duolingo even turns learning into a game, rewarding users for the longer they keep their streak – the number of days in a row that they have completed a lesson – and allowing them to earn XP.
The key is to start small – set yourself realistic goals such as learning 50 key words in a new language. Then try incorporating those words into some phrases you can try out. Then build them into longer sentences and conversations. Aiming to achieve fluency in your chosen language is not necessarily the best idea and can leave you feeling deflated. Language learning is a continuous process and never truly stops once you reach a certain “level” – there is always something new to learn as cultures and languages evolve. Instead, why not try setting yourself the goal of being able to read a magazine article in the target language without needing to look up every other word. Or understanding the lyrics to that favourite Reggaeton song you’ve always hummed along to pretending to know the words!
Which language is best/easiest to learn?
As a general rule, the more similar a language is to your own in terms of vocabulary, sounds or grammar, the easier you’ll find it to learn. But in reality, it all comes down to the individual as you may find the pronunciation of one language comes easily to you while the vocabulary or sentence structure is harder to pick up, and vice versa.
Ultimately you should decide based on what you are aiming to achieve with your new skill. If it’s just for leisure/travel, then obviously you can be guided by your holiday destination of choice. But if it’s more for business opportunities or career prospects, then why not check out English Live’s guide of the world’s top 10 languages to learn to give you some pointers.
Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things. – Flora Lewis
Why wait? Just go for it…
Language learning breaks down barriers and allows for more personal and meaningful interactions with other cultures. To use a popular (mis)quote from Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” So why not give it a go and see what possibilities it opens up for you?
And if all else fails and you find yourself lost for words at short notice, here at Planet Languages we have your back. With trusted linguists who can translate into over 80 languages, we can get your message across to a global audience in no time.
About the author
Sinead Livesey graduated with a First Class Honours degree in French, Spanish and Linguistics from the University of York in 2013. She joined Planet Languages shortly after and is now a senior member of the project management team. Across her multiple client accounts, she coordinates translation, proofreading and typesetting projects, as well as providing in-house expertise in her native and studied languages. Outside of work she enjoys distance running and cycling and completed the 2019 London Marathon to raise funds for the Wessex Cancer Trust.
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