At this time of year, you may find yourself thinking about which New Year resolutions to focus on. With just 20% of the American population being bilingual, why not use the year ahead to learn a new language? Modern developments in technology have made language learning more accessible and varied, offering you opportunities to engage with different languages and cultures in multiple ways. It gives a very positive impression to native speakers when you take the time to learn some courtesies in other languages. The rewards of committing to learning a language fluently, moreover, are far-reaching – both inherently and for other areas of your life. Here are a few pointers to help give you the motivation to make it a year to remember by learning a language.
Why learning languages matters
First things first, pursuing a personal interest has been shown to have very positive health benefits. These include reducing stress and increasing your overall emotional wellbeing. Meanwhile, research has revealed several benefits specific to language learning, such as improved memory and multitasking. The brain naturally works hard when engaging with a new language, and this results in an improved ability to filter out and absorb important information. What is more, studies have also shown that language learning may lower one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is thought that this is thanks to the positive impact on the parts of the brain responsible for cognitive control.
Different approaches to learning
When it comes to learning a language, there are many ways of getting to grips with it effectively. Alongside the traditional approach of joining regular, formal language classes, language learning can now incorporate the use of smart technology, with things like voice recognition enabling you to practice pronunciation in your own time and gauge your progress. One advantage of using technology as a learning tool is that it gives you the flexibility to study a language out and about, wherever you are. In this way, traditional methods of learning and new technology can complement each other when developing language skills. Whatever your approach to learning, the important thing is to engage with the language regularly on a daily basis.
Immerse yourself in the culture
It goes without saying that in order to become truly fluent in another language, it is vital that you throw yourself fully into the language and culture of the country. If possible, visit the country in question, even in your early stages of learning the language. This will give you the chance to hear the language throughout your time there, and pick up on nuances such as the rhythm, pitch, tone and pace of particular words. This is, after all, how babies develop language skills. Just as it for babies, immersing yourself in the language is the most effective way to learn for adults.
Learning a language is worth the effort
Embarking on a new language in the new year may feel daunting; learning a new language from scratch certainly requires a lot of self-discipline and hard work. However, by exposing yourself to the language every day – speaking and listening to others as often as possible, as well as reading and writing in your own time – you give yourself the best chance of becoming fluent reasonably quickly. Make the most of technology’s potential as a powerful learning tool. Finally, take courage; it can of course be hard to speak in an unfamiliar language for fear of making mistakes. Try not to worry, and remind yourself instead that most people will appreciate you making the effort.
— Written by Jane Sandwood, Contributor at Mondly