How To Start Learning A New Language

“I wish I’d kept my languages up from school”, “I’m so jealous, I’d love to be able to speak a second language”. These are things that I hear often when I talk about my love for languages and the fact that I speak French and Spanish on top of English. Usually it fills me with dismay, because these people feel that they have missed out on an opportunity that was once available to them and now is not. I can’t stress this enough, this is not true.

Coming from learning languages in the curriculum and remembering grammar drills and vocab tests and the stress of being asked to read out a sentence in front of the whole class in your best French/Spanish/German accent and having everyone laugh. Traumatic. No wonder so many students (still) stop taking a second language as soon as they are able to!

I’m here to remind you that the opportunity to learn a language has not gone away, that it is more important now than ever before and that it is NOT as boring/hard/scary/(insert negative adjective) as you may have initially thought. Being bilingual allow for opportunities to arise that would otherwise be difficult, expensive or impossible. Imagine going on holiday to your favourite destination and not only impress the locals with your knowledge, but effectively get exactly what you ask for instead of having to mime or crudely use a translation app.

We City Girls have high standards.

Language knowledge has many more benefits than holiday ease though, one of these is the neuro-pathways that are created when you learn words and attach meaning to these in a foreign language. You would in essence have two words for the same content in your brain, this strengthens and creates new neurons. There have been studies explaining that once this occurs, brain damaging diseases such as alzheimer's and dementia have to break down these newer, weaker connections first, protecting memories in your first language for longer.

In addition to the health benefits caused by language acquisition, let's look at the financial impact of bilingualism. Due to heightened communication ability, empathy in learning new cultures and patience with others to the extent that it has been shown to them, bi/multilinguals bring to the workplace skills far outweighing their language flair. For any savvy employer who wants an emotionally intelligent workforce, there’s nothing quite like a bilingual.

With all this said, these benefits don’t come around only at the time of reaching fluency (it is, in any case, hard to pinpoint when this is), these benefits materialise as soon as the speaker becomes confident enough to communicate in the new language despite any errors along the way. Switching into your new language to spend minutes and hours absorbing responses and speaking for yourself allows for this transformation.

So what can you do now?

Download apps that help you with your new language there are loads out there, my favourites are:

Duolingo: For absolute beginners who want to learn the basics in any language and grow all the way up to grammar using exercises which you become familiar with and eventually very good at understanding how the programme teaches you.

Mondly: similar to duolingo but takes you through learning vocab in a different order and with different exercises.

Italki: excellent for someone who would rather learn with a human but does not have time to commit to certain hours a week with a course in a local centre. Though this is paid for.

Hellotalk: This app pairs you with a native of the country and you can speak to them like facebook messenger with text or voice note, you can send them written words and they can offer corrections.

These are all great places to start, though I highly recommend that the face to face interaction with a native or someone who is fluent in the language is an even better place to start look around you at learning centres and universities as well as for freelance teachers who can work around your schedule. If you are based in Newcastle this is something I am able to offer privately and would love to meet fellow City Girl Network members who are interested in learning.

Written by Fiona Edwards.