Photo by Foundry (Pixabay)
Another lockdown is now upon us but this time it’s a national one. So, if you are wondering what to do with yourself now you’ve got more free time, put down that box set of The Office or Game of Thrones, I have a solution. Start learning another language. It might seem like a lot of effort or you may not have the motivation. ‘Why learn another language?’ I hear you say, well, trust me on this. If you’re not a language nerd like me, you may see the prospect of learning another language quite daunting, maybe you had a bad experience with learning another language in school but do not worry, I can assure you of the many benefits of learning another language.
The first benefit of learning another language is that it boosts brain power, as a foreign language introduces a new system of rules, structures and vocabulary. This improves our cognitive thinking and problem solving which will be very useful in our personal or professional lives. Secondly, it improves our memory and helps fight diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia. A study done at York University in Canada in 2007 found that by examining the hospital records of monolingual and bilingual patients who had been diagnosed with various types of dementia, the monolinguals were diagnosed on average at 75.4 years old whereas the bilinguals were diagnosed on average at age 78.6. A third benefit of learning another language is that it improves your multi-tasking ability. According to a study done by Pennsylvania State University, people who can switch between, or “juggle”, two or more different languages were better multitaskers. This was because in one study, participants used a driving simulator while doing separate, distracting tasks at the same time. The research found that people who spoke more than one language made fewer errors in their driving.
A fourth benefit is that you become more perceptive. A study by Spain’s University of Pompeu Fabra revealed that multilingual people are better at observing their surroundings. They were able to focus on relevant information and cut out the irrelevant. Finally, if you needed a fifth reason to convince you, language learning can also improve your decision-making skills. A study from the University of Chicago found that bilinguals tend to make more rational decisions. Bilinguals are more confident with their choices after thinking it over in the second language and seeing whether their initial conclusions still stand up.
So, I’ve convinced you to learn a language but what language do you learn, and how do you do it? Well, I may be a bit biased here on what languages I mention, but I will give you an outline on how to achieve this based on my personal experiences. This will not work for everyone as everyone learns differently but I hope I can point you in the right direction. I am currently learning French, Dutch and Norwegian with varied levels of experience. How did I do this? Well, let me explain.
First: Get the basics. You need to know some vocabulary and some grammar before you do anything else, then you can start experimenting with watching TV, listening to interviews etc. The library has books on so many languages it’s amazing! From Irish to Icelandic, there’s so much choice. My favourite book to use to get a grounding in the language is the ‘Colloquial’ series by Routledge which they have well-stocked in the Library including multiple copies for some languages like Dutch. When I started learning Dutch and had no idea where to start, I picked up the Dutch book in the series and it was so easy to navigate, and I was tackling difficult grammatical concepts and learning vocabulary in no time! It may seem a bit boring at first, but you have to know how to walk before you can run!
Second: Start becoming familiar with the culture of the country. The only way you will be able to continue to learn the language and want to learn the language is if you have a reason to. In fact, this should come before the first step. If you don’t know which language you want to learn, then try to listen to some music from around the world, go on Spotify and type in ‘Made in’ (they have a bunch of playlists for different countries) and have a listen, or even pick a country at random and find a singer that you like and then that’s your motivation to learn another language if you can’t understand what they are saying.
You could also watch a show and note down words and phrases from there. Some good shows if you are particularly interested in learning a European language is the SKAM family of shows. These are dramas based around teenagers and the challenges they face growing up, like sexuality, mental health, alcohol, drugs, love etc. Think of it as a slightly less intense version of the UK series Skins. This consists of the Norwegian original and then a handful of remakes including SKAM France, Netherlands, Druck (German Version), Italia etc. The beauty of these is that they are all mainly based on YouTube despite being broadcast on TV in their native countries. Therefore, it is really easy to find English or other language subtitles. If that’s not what you want to learn you can also use Rakuten Viki for languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc; and Yabla which is a paid-for service which you can use for Chinese, Italian, Spanish, French, German and English.
Finally: Start speaking the language. Practising the language and speaking in it or writing, reading or listening is what you’re going to need to progress in this language. But, how do I do this in lockdown? Well, I’ve got some helpful tips for you. First, the University has a plethora of societies, just go onto the Undeb Bangor website, find the list of societies and scroll through until you can find one that relates to languages/the language you want to study, find their Facebook page and make contact with that society, I’m sure somebody would be happy to help/have a chat. Second, download the app HelloTalk. There have been some mixed reviews about the site but it’s a great way to connect with natives around the world, especially if the language you’re learning is a bit obscure. You can help someone learn your language and they can help you learn theirs. And there are handy tools if you don’t understand something you or they have said, like the translation button which can translate messages.
Hopefully, I’ve given you enough advice so that you can tackle a language during this lockdown and soon you’ll be putting your newfound language skills to good use!
I am from the US and really fascinated by European languages from travel and the Eurovision fandom. I don’t have as much time as I wish I did but this makes ms more excited about doing something about my desire to speak languages beyond my boring English. I would ideally like to try a number of these, the SKAM show really intrigues me that you mentioned and also I am weak at multi-tasking, my grandmother suffered Alzheimer’s, I have many reasons to learn a new language , most of all the culture and connectivity outside my shell I’m stuck in and want to escape from. Thank you for this!