Week 24 – Learning a new language

Welcome to this week’s Giving Tuesday. Today we’re looking at languages and how learning a new language is good for you!

Learning a new language can be a daunting prospect, hampered by the remembered trauma of Modern Languages lessons at school. For example, mis-hearing your German teacher during GCSE oral tests and spending 10 minutes talking about the location of your bedroom, only for her to say “Nein, wer ist im dein Haus?” (“No, who is in your house”) and you saying “Oh, yes, ‘wer’ is ‘who,’ isn’t it? I thought you meant ‘where’” and feeling extremely stupid.

Or perhaps there’s a worry that self-educating will be too difficult or require too much time and discipline, both of which are often in short supply in our busy lives!

Languages are good for the brain

The benefits of learning and speaking a second (or third, or fourth!) language are impressive, though, and definitely worth persevering over.

Firstly, learning a new language improves your brain power: the language centres of the brain actually grow with use. Your ability to problem-solve will improve as well, making you think more creatively. Not only that, studies indicate that learning a new language can delay the onset of dementia as you get older.

The ability to speak more than one language makes you better at multitasking and will help improve your memory and your ability to concentrate for longer. And it can improve your chances of getting a job: employers consider bi- or multi-lingualism to be a huge asset, so fluency in more than one language will certainly help to improve your career options.

And, of course, achieving a goal like mastering a second language is a huge boost to your self-esteem, making you feel capable of doing more.

Have we convinced you? Excellent!

But where do you start?

Online learning

There are plenty of self-guided language courses available, some paid for, and some free.

We have found that DuoLingo works really well and fits happily into a busy schedule. The lessons are broken up into small chunks, with plenty of repetition to make sure you stay on top of your learning. It includes training in speaking, listening, reading and writing, and is suitable for children as well as adults. Best of all: it’s fun and it’s free.

If you would prefer a more formal lesson plan, then try the Open University. The OU offers three tiers of language courses (Certfificates, Diplomas and Degrees). All the information you need is on their website.

If you’re not sure if this is the right place for you, why not sign up for one of their excellent free courses first and give it a go. The benefit of an OU course is that you’ll receive a certificate at the end.

What do I do next?

Once you’ve mastered a new language, what do you do with it?

One option, of course, is to travel (although that’s not necessarily a great option right at the moment!). But, when travelling does become possible again, being able to the speak the language(s) of the place(s) you go will definitely enhance the experience.

Learning the language helps you to understand the culture of the place you’re visiting – language and culture are closely intertwined, so you’ll get more out of your visit if you can understand the language. The ability to speak even a few words will help when you’re interacting with the people – being able to ask for the drink you want, or how much something costs, is invaluable. And it helps to save money – being able to ask for the right items in a restaurant or shop, or directions to the place you want to go, is a lot cheaper than getting it wrong owing to a communications barrier.

Or maybe you’d like to use your new skill as part of your career? The tourism and hospitality industry places a high value on bilingual speakers, as does journalism. You could even find yourself working for the UK’s Diplomatic Service.

The most obvious area is teaching. You could combine travel and work, and find a job teaching English as a foreign language. Even if you’re teaching English, you’ll still need those language skills to live in your chosen country.

Alternatively, you could consider a career in translation, like our supporter Lindsay. Lindsay runs her own business, taking on translation work for companies all over the world. Here she is, talking about how her love for languages has led her to a career in translation.

Even if you’re only learning a new language for fun it offers you chance to make new connections and friends, through social media, through the course that you’re on, or through shared experiences.

So, no matter if you can’t put your new skill into practice straight away – you could still give it a go. And if you send us a message in your new language, we promise to respond in it, too!

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