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Language learning – a crash course

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Many of us have thought about learning a language before, we admire those who speak another tongue, and imagine ourselves talking our way around France with ease. However, while language learning is a difficult task, it’s not as hard as you might think and, dare I say, can actually be pretty fun!

The main stumbling block is a lack of confidence in the face of the daunting prospect of tackling a whole new language and culture. But, like with any learning process, mastering a language is all about building blocks: take it one step, one lesson, one text at a time and, after just a little time, you’ll find you’ve made progress without even noticing.

According to many recent reports there’s currently a language learning crisis in the UK with schools and universities seeing a decline in the popularity of MFL courses over the past few years. Of course, this is a cause for some concern in the British translation industry which relies on multilingual English translators. The language industry notwithstanding, with Brexit looming a drop in British multilinguals could have implications on cross-cultural communications on a wider scale in the future.

Why learn a foreign language?

It opens up cross-culture communication

Linguistically it isn’t a huge jump from ordering your favourite pizza in Italian to talking to someone about hobbies and ideas. From there, you’re just a step away from fluency and, most importantly, friendship. How often do you talk to someone who’s drastically different from you? Learning another language means looking at life from another cultural perspective. While this may be challenging at times, the benefits are worth it. You’ll develop tolerance as well as a deeper empathy for and better understanding of those who differ from you.

Improved job prospects

Whether you’re looking for a new job or trying to move up the career ladder, gaining some foreign language skills could really pay off – even if you’re not looking to work for a global company that may require knowledge of a foreign language. That’s because people are impressed by knowledge of a foreign language. Employers recognise it’s a hard skill to master. It takes perseverance and brain power – both desirable qualities in any professional environment. Adding a foreign language to your CV also shows you’re open to other cultures and ways of thinking. This could indicate you’ll be a good team player with flexible problem-solving abilities.

It keeps your brain active

Studies indicate that language learning improves our ability to focus (see our previous post on this here), multitask and solve problems. As well as affecting how your brain works, learning a language can also improve brain health. All that vocab work and grammar drilling can actually increase the size of parts of your brain. Most exciting of all, a Canadian study showed that the onset of Alzheimer’s was delayed in those who spoke two or more languages.

How best to learn a foreign language?

There is no one best way to learn a foreign language, it depends entirely on you. What kind of learner are you and what do you enjoy doing? Those who are more academic might feel at home in a language evening class or with a private tutor. The more solitary among us may get on well with a self-study course, a great option if you’re on a budget. The Internet offers plenty of programmes and apps for anyone wanting to take matters into their own hands, including chat-based apps which allow you to talk to native speakers any time you like!

Taking it further

Once you’ve learned the basics, you’ll find you can access a wide variety of content in your foreign language – be it songs, films, books or articles. Be careful not to struggle your way through a tricky newspaper if that’s not something you enjoy doing in English. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick to it and effective learning is all about forming good habits. The same goes for watching films: avoid high-brow French classics if that’s not your taste in English films. Let’s also dispense with the idea that subtitles are cheating – if they help, use them!

It might be scary, but an excellent way to boost your learning is to visit a country where your foreign language is spoken and just chat to people! I’m not talking about a couple of days in the Spanish countryside with your partner. Go on your own and plan social activities that put you in contact with native speakers. Take a language class – take a pottery class! Go for a walk and you’ll be surprised how asking for directions can turn into a lengthy chat. Or why not ask a lonesome diner to join you for lunch? It may seem very un-British but you’d be surprised how normal it is beyond Blighty’s borders…