Every time a holiday rolls around, I find myself picking up where I left off in my quest to learn a new language. Each time I have learnt something new and very interesting, which prompts me to consider a completely different language altogether and waste hours in the depths of the ‘languages’ corner of the internet. Whether you’ve ever considered learning another language or not, here are a few of the things I have learnt that may be of interest.
1. There’s no such thing as an ‘easy’ language to learn.
Perhaps you have also considered learning another language (other than English), and have been baffled by the many languages that exist. To narrow it down, you decide to Google ‘the easiest language for English speakers to learn’. You make some interesting observations. You learn that English is one of the most hybrid languages in existence. You also discover that each language exists in a category within a network, and English is a Germanic language (more on this in a second). So you decide on a Germanic language, and then find yourself on a site like Duolingo. At first, the language seems simple enough, but then you realise that this language has just as many (or more) complicated grammar rules as English. So you give up, and begin a new Google search.
Despite anything a webpage might tell you, every single language that exists has its own rules and requirements (and exceptions to said rules), meaning that learning a language is not merely substituting English words for others; it requires a lot more effort.
2. Each language exists in a category in the ’mind-map‘ of languages.
Where a language sits in such a network depends on its history and its structures. English is part of the Germanic languages category and shares a lot of its structures with languages like Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Afrikaans, and German. However, it does not mean Germanic languages will be easier to learn than any other language (such as a Romance language like French or Spanish, or a Uralic language like Hungarian or Finnish) it just means that English as we know it is rooted in other Germanic languages.
Once I looked this up and found myself learning about the history of the English language, a rabbit hole opened leading me to the beginnings of England as a nation. Apparently some of the first peoples to colonise the British Isles were the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who all spoke a version of a West Germanic tongue. Over time, their language blended and formed into various dialects as they settled into their own tribes and kingdoms. The most powerful were the Angles and Saxons (Anglo-Saxons) who spoke Old English. Then came the Vikings with their North Germanic tongue, which merged with the Old English, followed by the Normans (the French) who added to the new Middle English. Middle English evolved into Medieval English, which became Early Modern English, then Modern English, and finally the Late Modern English we know today.
3. You can learn a language for free without leaving the house.
While I knew that I could teach myself a language on my own, I was unaware of just how many language-learning resources exist. For example, there are entire web communities of people who come together for the sake of learning another language or two. Or three. Or four. These people are called ‘polyglots’ and are fluent (or aim to be) in several languages. There is a huge interest in online language learning, and if you do decide to learn another language, you will not be short on resources. Aside from the popular interactive language-learning websites and apps (such as Duolingo, Memrise, Babbel, Clozemaster, iTalki, and Busuu), there are hundreds of thousands of people who blog about languages. Even on social media and sites like Tumblr, a quick ‘langblr’ search will provide you with enough guides, study tips, links, and a lot more to keep you busy for quite a while. YouTube is also rich with channels whose sole purpose is teaching people a language (not to mention that you can find channels entirely in another language). Other popular options are finding TV shows or movies in your target language, TV shows with a familiar format (like X-Factor or The Voice), or get hold of translated Disney films.
So long as you have an internet connection, there really isn’t any excuse for not learning another language (especially since most of these resources are free). I even read an article about how some people are taking advantage of Tinder to meet people they can practise their skills with.
4. Learning another language has so many benefits.
While learning a language is not the easiest endeavour, it offers many benefits. Learning a language exercises your brain; it improves your memory and your attention span, boosts creativity, and (some say) it can even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Not only is it mentally rewarding, but you will also gain a deeper understanding of English and the world around you. This is because events and objects are described differently in other languages in ways that cannot truly be translated without losing meaning. By learning another language, you not only re-discover the world (using a new language can allow for a completely different perspective), but also develop a sense of another culture.
While it may seem daunting at first, and may be tricky, it will be a personal achievement that you worked toward, and something that will give you greater confidence in your abilities.
Words by Laura McLachlan