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7 Steps to Mastering a New Language

7 Steps to Mastering a New Language

Multilingualism is a great thing. Learning another language can make you more competitive in the job market and science has shown that bilingualism can improve your brain while holding back conditions like dementia.

As someone who learned Japanese a few years ago, I can say that while learning a language is a huge challenge, it is also immensely satisfying. Here are a few tips both from experts which can help you become fluent.

1. Know why you’re studying a language

Learning a language is not something you can just pick up and put away as you please. As Language Testing International points out, some languages can take up to 2760 hours to learn proficiently. Even easier languages like French or Spanish will still take 720 hours. No one can do that much work on their own time without serious motivation.

In my case, I am the son of a Japanese immigrant and thus gained an interest in learning the language of my heritage. That motivation kept me going during those many, many frustrating hours I spent trying to learn new kanji or going over Japanese particles.

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What that motivation is, can vary from person to person, but make sure you have a real reason to learn a language beyond mere curiosity or impressing your peers. Write it down where you can see it to keep yourself motivated.

2. Learn core words first

No one can memorize every word in a language. Instead, there are a series of core words, which account for the vast majority of what we say in everyday life. In English for example, 90 percent of texts consist just 4000 words while 300,000 words make up the other 10 percent.

So learn the core words first in your language. By emphasizing on those, you can quickly get to a level where you can hold a conversation. Making visible progress like that, can keep yourself motivated for the next level.

3. Practice

As noted above, learning a language to a proficient level can take up to 2760 hours. If you are studying a language for two hours a day, five days a week, that is over five years of work.

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That means it is critical to regularly practice. You can’t just do a lot of practice for one day and then take three days off. What knowledge you learn in that one day will decay in those few days. Set a regular schedule and stick to it. If you can make learning a language a routine, the battle is partly won.

4. Watch foreign-language media

Most people use language textbooks to learn basic to intermediate grammar and words, but there is a catch. Those textbooks only teach a very formal version of the language. The result is that when you speak like a textbook in front of a native speaker, you will sound very strange (and in Japanese, you will sound feminine).

So you should expose yourself to your studied language beyond mere study guides. Foreign media is a great way to immerse yourself. Even if you do not understand what they are saying, noticing the tone and pitch used will help.

And turn the subtitles off.

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5. Don’t be scared of mistakes

Everyone believes that young children are much better at learning languages compared to adults, but one study from the journal Second Language Research has declared that “the age at which second language acquisitions begins is not a significant factor.”

So if children are not actually better at learning languages, why do we think that? One reason is that unlike adults, children do not get embarrassed when they make a speaking or grammar mistake. Adults do, and this can in the worst case scenario lead to perfection paralysis. People become so worried about making a mistake that they stop trying to move forward and improve.

Mistakes are a part of learning any language. Don’t worry about making them.

6. Speak with native speakers

When I started to learn Japanese, my mother’s side of the family and her contacts were a huge help. I regularly talked with them about everything, which bolstered my speaking skills and helped me understand various parts of Japanese which I would not have realized with just a textbook.

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Talking with a native speaker is the single best way to improve your language skills, but how can you find one? Websites like italki or WeSpeke can help you connect with other across the globe. Also probe your friends and family to see if they know someone who speaks your target language.

7. Look into the foreign culture

A language represents people and their culture. If you don’t value the people or the culture, then you don’t value the language. Think about how the Eskimos have 50 words for “snow.”

So take efforts to learn about the native culture if you want to know the native language. Films and TV shows are a good place to start, but newspaper, news shows, and even Internet memes can teach you what the people you are studying are interested in. Doing so will teach you new words and phrases which you would not have learned otherwise and will help you understand that a new language can help you open up an entirely new world for you to explore.

Don’t Give Up!

According to Vamos Spanish Academy, Learning a language is a huge challenge. When you have spent hours not making any real progress and fumbling your speech, it is easy to wonder if this is really such a good idea.

But bilingualism is a valuable tool where the rewards will easily make up for the effort. Remember the reasons why you decided to practice that language and the fact that requires constant, long practice. Fluency is only a matter of time and effort. If you make a true effort to immerse yourself in the language, understand the culture, and practice as much as you can, you will find yourself knowing a language which can enrich your life and teach you new perspectives.

Featured photo credit: pixabay.com via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

          Reference

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