Learning a foreign language can often seem like a very daunting experience.
As one grows older, it is often presumed that they cannot learn and absorb a foreign language due to their brain no longer being a “sponge.”
There are grammar rules, vocabulary and social customs to remember right? Wrong! Learning another language does not have to be this way at all. I am about to dismember everything you were taught to think about how to learn languages at school.
Many Polyglots (the term for a person who speaks 3 or more languages) abide by this philosophy which is “languages can only be learnt and not taught.” What exactly does this mean?
Before doing anything else, it is important to decipher what language you yourself want to study. Is it Irish, French, Italian (etc.).
It is also imperative that one is able to pinpoint and decipher why they want to learn this specific language. For example, is it for travel, work, or to learn about your family history? Having a clear sense of motivation will keep you determined to push through any difficulties during your language learning experience.
This is the most asked question in regards to learning a new language is how? This varies for every person but with a variety of resources available to us in the 21st century, it is important to utilise the internet. Free online language learning sites are full of pages of vocabulary and phrases to help you on your journey.
- Start with introductory phrases (hi, how are you, etc.)
- Learn the personal pronouns of the language (he, she, they etc.)
- Introduce the verbs to have, to go, and to be as a grammatical foundation
- Introduce basic vocabulary such as house or school items.
Finding someone you can speak and practice this foreign language with is a bonus. We are fortunate enough to begin to converse with people on virtual platforms such as zoom and skype. Having a native speaker as a friend definitely helps. However if this is not possible for whatever reason, listening to the radio in that language as well as music definitely helps.
Many people think that it is near impossible to learn a language if one does not live in the country or countries where that language is spoken. This is not true at all, one can easily create an immersive environment through learning more about the culture. I am not trying to say that this does not help, of course it does. However not everyone has the means to be able to pick up and leave home just to learn a language.
Bilingualism in the European and International Context
As previously stated, we now have a number of resources accessible to us for the first time in human history. If anything, learning languages should be much easier now than for our grandparents and great grandparents’ generations, so why is the number of bilingual people worldwide decreasing?
It is a trend in Europe and worldwide to see that the countries in which English is an official language have the lowest rates of bilingualism. For example in the European context the UK as well as Ireland only have a population of 0 – 19% that is bilingual. This is, in comparison to countries like Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands in which virtually everyone is bilingual at 55 – 100%.
Why is this the case? It can be assumed that English now as the world’s “official” language dissuades those who are native speakers from feeling the need to learn a foreign language. This is a very arrogant mentality to have as it is important that everyone feels comfortable in certain environments, including non native english speakers.
Looking at the bigger picture, just a few decades ago, the world’s official language was French. This can easily change again, thus the importance of learning a second language needs to be emphasised.
The Neurological Connection
There are many neurological and health benefits that are associated with being a result of learning another language. According to the site “Age of Awareness”, these include but are not limited to:
- Memory Improvement – University research has confirmed that children who speak more than one language were able to perform at a more optimal level regarding short – term memory tasks than those who only knew one language.
- Your Brain grows bigger – Researchers in Sweden discovered that learning a foreign language through the brain scans of the Swedish military who were doing intensive language training compared with medical students from a nearby university. After 3 months, the scans showed the growth in the military personnels brain language and memory processing areas, the medical students’ brains did not change.
- Risk of developing Neurological Issues decreases – It has been suggested that learning languages can delay the occurrence of age related memory related diseases such as Alzhimers. In order to prove this further research has been conducted to teach languages to those 65 and over.
Languages can only be learnt and not taught.
- Choose your language: Make sure you have an interest in this particular language, and the culture that is behind it. In some cases, it is easier for someone to learn a language that is in the same language group. For example, English is a Germanic language, therefore, Swedish, also a Germanic language may be easier to learn than, say, Chinese.
- Have clear motivation why: Learning a language in one’s own time is a preferred method of learning as opposed to being taught in a big group in a classroom. One clear difference that motivation makes between these two scenarios is you willingly learning a language for an intrinsic reason not learning it as an academic requirement unwillingly.
- Use a System: Apply the previously stated steps in an orderly fashion
- Structure your time: Take 30 minutes out of the day for language study any more than this and you will be mentally burned out.
- Immerse yourself: If possible, chat with a native speaker in person or on zoom. You can also listen to the radio and music in that language.
- Travel for Holidays: If possible travel to the country/countries where that language is spoken.
- The Only True Way to Learn a Language: https://www.lucalampariello.com/true-way-to-learn-a-language/
- Fascinating Things that Happen to Your Brain When you Learn a Language: https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/5-fascinating-things-that-happen-to-your-brain-when-you-learn-another-language-2f075fad8f45