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!

Second Language Acquisition, Second Language Experiences

Why Studying Abroad is Good for Business

If the multiple Rosetta Stone commercials are any indication, there are quite a few people out there interested in learning a second language. I’ve seen posts on FaceBook asking about various software programs for SLA (second language acquisition). I’ve taken classes with people who were there to learn a few key phrases to use while on vacation. And I’ve known others who wanted to learn the language of their ancestors. But it wasn’t until my study abroad experience that I had the chance to talk with students who were abroad, studying another language, because they considered it a resumé builder, or good for their future careers.

Then, just last week I saw this article from Forbes, titled, “How Learning an Additional Language Could Influence Your Business,” which talks about the rise in international business relations, and how learning multiple languages (and about multiple cultures) can minimize financial losses due to misunderstandings.

It’s been my experience that, in the US, learning a second language, studying abroad, and international travel for extended lengths of time aren’t considered necessary, unless you’re aiming for a career in diplomacy or are majoring in a specific language. To some extent, I understand this. For example, the North American continent is made up of three countries (not including the various island nations in the Caribbean), the European continent: about 50, and the African Continent: almost 60. It’s much quicker for someone in Luxembourg to travel to Germany (445 km / 276.5 m) than it is for someone to travel from Boston to Los Angeles (4800 km / 2983 m). When you add crossing an ocean into the mix, the time and money required rises exponentially, and it’s just not feasible for everyone.

But if the US is going to be a part of a global business community, I believe international awareness should be more encouraged as part of our educational system, and acquiring multiple languages should be promoted beginning at an early age. By simply reframing the idea that international travel is less of a luxury and more of a valuable investment, we’ll be setting up the next generation to think and act globally. And that will benefit everyone in the long run.