Many countries have historical proverbs on the importance of learning new languages. A Chinese proverb states that “to learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world”. While an African proverb says “if you want people to understand you, speak their language”. Regardless of the saying, the theme across the world is clear – learning new languages is important and necessary.
Why Learn Another Language?
According to Lisa Chau, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and contributor for several publications, learning another language is beneficial to personal and professional success as it allows a person to communicate more effectively with a wider variety of prospective clients. Not to mention the fact that learning an additional language increases the brain’s gray matter.
“Language learning is described as a kind of re-wiring of the brain which can form new neurons and connections among the intellectual network,” Chau said in the U.S News and World Report article, Why You Should Learn Another Language.
Among several reasons to learn a language one convincing reason is keeping the brain young and in shape. Studies in Neurology, a leading professional neurological journal, suggest that being bilingual may prevent the onset of dementia by an average of 4.5 years.
Choosing a Language to Learn
According to the Linguistic Society, it is estimated that there are almost 7,000 different languages and dialects. Certain of the dialects vary from one another only slightly, while others are entirely different. Learning a new language takes considerable time and dedication, so it is important to choose something that is of interest.
When deciding on a new language, also consider whether it would be helpful in communicating with friends or relatives, opening up or improving employment opportunities or even allowing for more enjoyable travel.
How to Learn a Foreign Language
There are a variety of options for language learning, including taking a course at a local college or university, utilizing an online class or learning tool, audio learning and even immersing yourself in the language through travel.
Everyone learns differently. Some are audial learners and can pick things up quickly merely by listening. Others must see and touch to absorb the information effectively. It is important to discern your unique learning style before choosing a foreign language learning method.
After discovering the appropriate learning style, research available local and global classroom options, foreign language learning products and, dependent on resources, study abroad programs. Another option for learning a foreign language is a tutor. A tutor is an excellent option if you need intensive, one-on-one interaction to learn effectively. A book and even an online learning tool is a reference, while a tutor is there to help you translate the information from the book.
Local classroom options can be found at universities, community colleges and even high schools. In addition to a traditional classroom setting, several colleges and universities offer distance learning options for learning a new language. Distance learning is an alternative to the classroom that offers learning through internet distance learning courses.
A variety of foreign language learning products are available, including books, tapes, videos and computer tutorials. Some, like Duolingo, are even free. One of the most popular language learning programs is Rosetta Stone, although PC Magazine lists several additional options.
Justin Peters, a contributor to Travel & Leisure, points out that while language learning products generally offer a similar degree of efficacy, each approaches the task of teaching differently. It may take trying several different options, or a combination of a few to find what works best for you.
According to author Tom Scovel, learning a new language is complex and multifaceted. In Scovel’s book, Learning New Languages: A Guide to Second Language Acquisition, he states that no matter what learning tool is utilized, some of the keys to successfully learning a new language are:
- Purchase a translation dictionary. Having a quick reference of words translated from your native language at your immediate disposal is necessary when learning a new language. There are also online options. However, do not become dependent on only a translation dictionary as it will only assist on a basic level
- Read in the chosen language. Even before you have a grasp on the language, start looking at the written word to train your senses to accept the different ways words are written and letters are combined. As you start understanding the language more, reading will become more helpful and entertaining.
- Write in the chosen language. While learning to read and speak the language is important, writing gives you the opportunity to learn how words are conjugated and sentences are constructed. Practicing writing words helps your brain retain and understand.
- Speak and listen in the chosen language. It may have been difficult previously to connect with someone who speaks your chosen language, but online options are making this more convenient.
Scovel goes on to say that a successful new language student must be perseverant and resolute in their decision and plan to become multilingual. While there may be a certain amount of anxiety in learning anything new, it can become especially prevalent in learning a new language due to the complexities of the subject.
“It is important to understand that learning something new, especially a new language, is supposed to be enjoyable and improve oneself. Keep that in mind,” he said.
As with any skill, if a person does not continue to utilize the skill it may be lost. During and after learning a new language, it is important to continue to use and perfect it.
Learning a new language can lead to continuing to accept the challenges of becoming multi-lingual, perhaps leading to becoming a polyglot. A polyglot is person who speaks, writes or reads several languages. The most prolific Polyglot is Ziad Youssef Fasah, who hold the Guinness Book for World Records for reading and speaking the most number of languages at 58.