I’ve made it my mission with this blog to point out that there’s more to linguistics than speaking multiple languages. But lately I’ve come across several articles about language learning, including some really cool new (and free!) apps that were designed to make learning another language easier than ever.
First, though, I want to reiterate some benefits of learning another language. There’s a great deal of evidence out there that being multilingual changes your brain in positive several ways, and recent research even suggests that learning a new language can expand your mind, both figuratively and literally.
Language is about understanding and expressing ideas and concepts; as you increase your access to different words and cultural ideas, it becomes easier to find the right word or expression that can most closely share the idea you have in your head with another independent mind. Plus, learning the different ways that ideas can be expressed makes you realize that there are many ways to say the same thing, and that there’s no “right” way to express yourself, as long as you’re able to communicate your ideas. And, of course, there’s that great quote from Nelson Mandela that, for me, hits the nail on the head as far as why I love linguistics:
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”
There are many ways to learn another language: immersion is an amazing (if occasionally disconcerting–in a good way) experience, if that option is available to you. If not, there are plenty of classes out there at places like Multilingual Chicago, Language Trainers USA, or private tutors. If you live in a major city, you might find something like the Polyglot Bar, where people gather to practice different languages and meet like-minded language learners.
For those of you without access to these kinds of resources, fear not! There are many other options available at a variety of price points. The most well known is the Rosetta Stone software, but lately there’s been an explosion of smart phone apps available for little to no cost. Although I haven’t tried any of these…yet…I was drawn to this article about the creator of Duolingo, primarily because they talk about their user experience research: they employ A/B testing to figure out which lessons in which orders are the most effective for language learning, and then update lessons to incorporate those changes. As a firm believer in giving back to communities that provide researchers with data, I love hearing of these kinds of applications.
So forget your excuses and go learn another language–your brain will thank you for it!
What other thoughts would you add about language learning? Has anyone used any of these software programs or apps? If so, feel free to add in your two cents or a review in the comments below!