A language is so much more than words and grammar. A language is a whole new world of culture, beliefs, legends, lifestyle, food and emotions. Learning a foreign language opens up the door to those unknown worlds and widens our horizon to something greater and bigger than what we’ve known all our lives. Well, that should be reason enough for you to start on your language learning quest, but there’s more.
Studies have proved that the cognitive benefits of learning are well worth the time and effort you put into learning a language. A paper on The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual lists them out: “Researchers have shown that the bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another. In addition, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.”
Language skills are an added asset in opening up employment opportunities as well. Our recent blog on How to Make A Living Using Your Language Skills brought out 3 ways in which your language skills can become a good source of income. Let’s add to that all the different ways in which you can save a pretty penny as a tourist with local know-how … well I think I’ve made my point. Now with all these excellent reasons to start learning a new language, lets get on to the how.
6 Tips to Learning A New Language
Tip #1 - Talk, Talk and Talk Some More!
Find a language buddy to talk to. Studies show that conversation is a vital factor in learning languages. In a study by the University of California, it was found that back-and-forth conversation contributed the most to a child’s future language score. This is because the mind must process what you hear and work to form a response in that language. This exercise creates a conversational interplay and registers it as a social interaction. Our minds place more priority on memories which involve actual human and social experiences, memories which have emotions tied to them. The more you converse in the language you are learning, the more memories you make in that language.
Tip #2 - Maintain a Sense of Humour
A sense of humour will help immensely when you’re learning a new language. Don't take yourself too seriously. Accept that you will make mistakes and don't let that stop you. Studies also show that humour is an important part of learning a language. Humour actually helps build context around learning. Speaking about the importance of humour in learning a language, actor George Oliver says: “The familiar structure of a comical anecdote meant I could quickly decipher and comprehend what it was all about. It aided my understanding of another language, and the potential to imitate and induce laughter in others made me want to retain it.”
Tip #3 - Value Fluency Over Accuracy
The ultimate goal when learning a new language is to use it fluently. Fluency does not necessarily mean accuracy. Even if you do not achieve perfect accuracy in terms of grammar, vocabulary, tone and other aspects, remember that fluency is more important. You could be grammatically imperfect and yet understood. Instead of cramming your brain with words that are technically right, learn colloquial words and the use of these words in local everyday speech. Once you start using these words, work your way from up there.
Tip #4 - Build Your Vocabulary
Treasure each new word you hear. Write it down, look it up in the dictionary and pack your treasure chest with these words as you build your vocabulary. Once you pick up a word, work with it. Try and include it in your speech the very same day. Look up a thesaurus and find different words that convey the same meaning. The goal is to add to your vocabulary each day.
Spaced repetition is an important technique to help you retain the words you learn. In the basic sense, it means you revisit information regularly at set intervals over time. An article on Spaced repetition explains the science behind this. “Spaced repetition is simple, but highly effective because it deliberately hacks the way your brain works. It forces learning to be effortful, and like muscles, the brain responds to that stimulus by strengthening the connections between nerve cells. By spacing the intervals out, you’re further exercising these connections each time. It produces long-term, durable retention of knowledge…”
Tip #5 - Train Your Mouth Muscles
Some sounds in a different language are difficult as they have completely new mouth positions. Think of the rolled "R" in Spanish or the Hindi retroflex consonants which need to be pronounced with the tongue tip curled back. Apparently there are eight different types of "d" and "t" sounds in Hindi! Practice the sounds and train your mouth to adopt new positions.
Pronunciation must therefore become a physical as well as a cognitive activity. Teaching the muscles to form a specific pattern through repetition builds memory for that pattern. Muscle memory is defined as “a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition, which has been used synonymously with motor learning. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.” Your mind begins to learn the word in connection to the muscular movements associated with it. By understanding the muscles that produce different sounds, articulation and rhythms, you will be able to pronounce the words correctly.
Tip #6 - Travel
Language Immersion is one of the best ways in which you can learn a new language. When it comes to language immersion, there is no substitute to surrounding yourself with native speakers of that language. You will pick up the way the speak and authentic colloquial phrases, which you can’t pick up with years of academic study. This will also help you understand the language in context. Observing locals speak, even if you don’t understand all of it, will help you form connections in your brain that will resurface later on. Your words will now be linked to experiences and that will help you learn the language faster.
Remember, language doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It includes the culture and ways of living of generations of people. When you see the language in use within the cultural context, it adds to grasping the essence and roots of the language, making a deeper impression on your memory. If travel isn’t an option for you right now, that’s alright. You can still experience the culture right where you are. Immerse yourself in the food, music, dance and other cultural experiences of the language by creating experiences. What I mean by this is - don’t order a paella, learn to cook it; don’t turn up the radio, sing a Bollywood ghazal instead; don’t watch a dance show, get up and do the rumba!
The Fascinating World of Languages
As a linguistic partner for clients all over the world, language is indelibly linked to everything we do. All of us on the Simpson Soft team have great respect for languages around the world and love engaging with our linguists (2000 and counting!) We are thrilled to be part of this fascinating world of languages! If you want to find out how we can help your company with language solutions or if you want to join us as a linguist, drop us a message; and if you are a language learner trying your best to pick up a language - don’t give up! Its worth it.