Bilingual, Second Language Acquisition, Second Language Experiences

No More Excuses: Language Learning Made Easy

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!

Bilingual, Language and Movies, Recommended Reading

Outlander: a Multilingual Performance example

I am a huge Outlander fan. Ever since a friend and fellow actor loaned me her copy of the first book of the series, so I had something to read offstage during the run of Hamlet (the rock version), I’ve been absolutely hooked. If you aren’t familiar, it’s an epic story of a woman named Claire who accidentally travels through time in Scotland, and meets her soul mate, Jamie. Recently, Starz premiered a new series based on the book (also called Outlander), and so far they’ve done a great job bringing this story and these characters to life. Part of bringing the time period and location (1740s Scotland) to life onscreen is through the use of Gaelic. While the main character, Claire, is English, many of the people she encounters speak and understand Gaelic.

For the actors, this means mastering several words and phrases in an unfamiliar tongue. In an article about Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie, there’s a brief discussion about how the language is handled in the show, particularly the mention that the Gaelic won’t be translated via subtitles as a dramatic device to tune us in to Claire’s feeling of being outside her comfort zone. But what about the actors? In this great post from Anna at the Language Trainers Blog, she talks about several actors who’ve learned lines in unfamiliar languages and done an amazing job, dramatically (she mentions the performance of Samira Wiley in Orange is the New Black, who learned German for her character’s flashback episode). As anyone who’s ever performed in another language, or even Shakespeare, will tell you: it’s not enough to say the words—you have to understand the intent behind the words to convey the deeper message.

The author goes on to talk about actors who are bilingual in real life, and how the different languages can affect how the actors approach their roles. Much like how language can affect decision-making based on logic versus intuition, at least one bilingual actor (Javier Bardem) has said that he connects in an emotional way with one language (Spanish), and in a mental way with another (English).

So the next time you see a movie or tv show where there are scenes in different languages, take a second to do some online sleuthing to find out if the actor is bilingual. Who knows—it may win you a round of trivia someday!