The Scottish Government has committed to every child learning a second language at the age of 5. Alongside this, they’ll learn an additional language in P5, which means children will know 3 languages by the time they leave school. It’s called the 1+2 policy and we think it’s a great pledge, as there are so many reasons why children should learn another language.
Increase their skills
Earlier this week an article came out stating that ‘bilingual babies are smarter’. Growing up learning or hearing a second language helps to increase their learning capabilities including problem solving and memory. This means not only do children benefit from knowing a second language; it also helps them improve across all other subjects that they’re learning.
This may seem like extreme forward planning, but as the world continues to internationalise, employers are looking to their potential employees for language skills. Business is conducted worldwide and the need to understand and communicate with other cultures is massive. Having the ability to learn a language at a young age is an excellent skill to have.
Secondary schools in the UK teach a foreign language in years 7 to 9, with it being optional for students to take a language at GCSE. Starting languages in primary schools could create the enthusiasm needed to help with the uptake of GCSE and A-level languages. It can help to show students that languages aren’t necessarily a risky option at GCSE/A-level, instead they are fun and there are ways that you can learn a language and do well with it!
Primary schools that have been a part of the Junior Language Challenge have found children love to learn languages. Those that get to the final of the challenge have had the chance to learn three new languages; many of them have chosen to enter again the year after too!
There are such a large variety of cultures in the UK, in one primary school there are 20 different languages spoken. Not one of these speak English as a first language, so equipping children with the skills to learn a language will make it easier for them to pick up English and communicate with each other.
In 2012 the European Commission report found only 9% of English students were reaching ‘independent learner’ level when it came to languages. This is tiny compared to Sweden’s 82% level; the UK is actually joint bottom when it comes to learning foreign languages. In Luxembourg children are offered the chance to learn 3 languages during their time at school. Clearly learning a language is an area the UK needs to invest in more – and Scotland are leading the way!
In the spirit of ‘Linguists Anonymous’, I am Felicity Jones, 45, and I am mildly addicted to learning other languages. I speak French, German, Spanish, Italian and some Mandarin. I have used uTalk to learn some Danish, and my January challenge is Greek.
Even as a child I would listen under the bed cover to a transistor radio beaming in words I could not understand from across Europe when I was meant to be asleep, and tried to make sense of the country names on foreign stamps. I then had the deeply unusual benefit of inspirational language teachers at school. Now, I travel a lot for my work and for fun, and as I always need to know how to say I am vegetarian – in Korean gogi bego is the most effective way to be clear about that – I have an excuse to learn at least a few words. Being able to say ‘thank you’ or ‘good morning’ makes travelling much more human.
What would I say to someone thinking about learning another language? Stop thinking about it and get going! The longer you think about it, the bigger the mountain seems. And don’t be afraid to communicate right from the off, even if you can only say hello or thank you – that’s why I love uTalk as it’s not just flat lists of words; you have to think, hear, speak even with your first words. And the Recall is an evil but effective section, the most like real life you can get to by yourself.
The most inspiring approach I have ever seen is Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis. He uses ‘language hacks’ to accelerate confidence to SPEAK, an approach which transformed him from someone who thought they could not learn languages after school to fluency in seven languages and dabbling in more. Think like a child, open your ears, let yourself sound silly when you shape your mouth to make an unfamiliar sounds, ask someone how you say something in their language. Listen to the radio, read a children’s book, look at the signs in the airport and in shops, skype with native speakers and exchange your skills, go to a bar. Above all, speaking another language is only ever about connecting with someone else, with a different culture, a different way of being, however fleetingly and enjoying it. And if you have any doubt, apparently language learning stimulates the same part of the brain as other pleasurable activity!
I recently discovered something fascinating. Here it is: there is such a thing as Baby Sign Language. And it’s a pretty big deal.
The idea behind it is very clever: by teaching simple signs to your baby from a really young age, they will be able to identify and sign everyday items, as well as being able to express simple desires and needs. There are signs for feelings such as ‘hungry’, ‘thirsty’, ‘thank you’, ‘want’, as well as objects such as ‘butterfly’, ‘chair’, ‘ant’, ‘uncle’.
Because your baby can quite easily acquire new signs using their hands and arms ages before the muscles of their mouth have fully developed to allow comprehensive speech, the baby can communicate at a much younger age – and you, the parents, can communicate with them as well, not just interpreting what the baby says, but also responding through sign.
As well as supposedly creating a fuller relationship with the baby at a much younger age than if you wait for speech to develop, the advantage is that the baby will generally feel a lot happier because they’re able to express themselves. Crying babies are often upset because they can’t communicate their needs, or because those needs aren’t interpreted by the grown-ups in charge, but if the baby has a sure means of communicating to the parents then they’re less likely to feel frustrated and angry, and therefore less likely to cry (hallelujah, I hear people shout).
The way it works is that your baby will pick up on regularly repeated signs. It might take a little while before they can respond, or understand, but if you repeat the sign for an object or feeling every time your baby is around, then they will start to identify the sign as having a specific meaning.
As time goes on and they become more comfortable with the concept of signing, they will want to acquire more and more vocabulary – so make sure you keep up!
Here’s baby Fireese and her mum showing us how it’s done:
Has anyone ever taught their baby to sign? We’d love your comments!
👋👇👌 – Hi, are you okay?
👍☺️ – I’m good thanks!
👏 – yay!
Or something like that.
Welcome to the wonderful language that is emojis 😁
And before you express concern that we are confused about what is a language and what is not, hey. Your entire screen staring back up at you currently is composed of a series of ones and zeros, manipulated into the glorious thing you see before you and that, the ones and zeros, is a language all in itself. Binary code. If you’re interested.
Emojis are much, much prettier to look at than a bunch of ones and zeros though, aren’t they?
Yes, we know. Emojis can be confounding to us too. But a language is a language, and language learning is good for our cognitive reasoning 😇
So let us give you a little introduction into the wonderful world of emojis, see if we can entice you in or relieve you of your confusion. Here are some reasons why we vote emojis as our new favourite international language.
✒️📚🕐 study time!
- So firstly, you may have heard of emoticons. Emoticons are not emojis, repeat, they are not emojis ‼️ Emoticons are ‘pictures’ composed of the keyboard symbols we already have, such as :), :(, and :D. Even our mothers know how to use them.
- Emojis originate from Japan and are, like Japanese characters themselves, pictographs. The word itself means ‘picture’ – e and ‘character’ – moji. Another argument in favour of emojis being a language, don’t you think?
- Emojis actually have specific, individual meanings but in the way that colloquial language changes and adapts, they can mean different things to different people. For example, 😋 ’officially’ means face savouring delicious food, but whenever we use this in our Whatsapp messages, it generally means we are being exceptionally cheeky. Tongue sort-of in cheek, see?
- Emojis are a beautiful, universal thing, allowing people to communicate when normal language barriers would apply. And there’s no grammar! Truly, this is a joyous thing.
- Emojis are also doing their bit for diversity. The latest versions of iOS offer emoji with different skin tones:
- and the generic ‘one size fits all’ ones…
- …and those for people of the LBGT community, 👭👬🌈❤️. But none for redheads apparently. There’s a campaign on Change for that at the moment.
- Emojis are multi-platform. You can use them, in various versions on all devices, and everyone is in on the act. Even National Rail Enquiries, who, on World Emoji Day last Friday, invited Twitter followers to guess station names using a series of emojis.
— National Rail (@nationalrailenq) July 17, 2015
- Emojis can shorten your messages and bring a smile to a recipient’s face: even if it’s just because they’re trying to understand what you mean:
Please come Christmas shopping with me?
Enjoy your holiday in Cyprus!
Join me for a cheeky drink after work?
- Some businesses will even let you order dinner via Twitter: 🍕
We could go on. But we’d probably get silly.
So the next time someone shows disdain for your messages full of emojis, you are well within your rights to reply with a 😝 that says hey, I’m learning a new language here!
Are you for or against emoji? Tell us what you think!
We had a great response to our recent language learning survey; thank you to everyone who took the time to complete it. First things first: we’re delighted to announce that the winner of the iPad mini prize draw is Konstantia Sakellariou. Congratulations, Konstantia – your iPad is on its way!
We wanted also to share a few of our findings with you. Some of the results from the survey were as we expected, others were quite surprising. Here are just a few of the things you had to tell us. Thanks again for all your thoughtful responses, we’ll put them to good use.
Which language(s) are you learning (or would like to learn)?
The first question was pretty straightforward. A couple of people ticked every language on offer (over 100) – now that’s what we call ambition! – but most chose between 1 and 5. Here are the top ten most popular languages: Other popular choices included Greek, Swedish, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Norwegian, Irish, Polish and Icelandic. We also got some requests for languages we don’t yet offer, like Guernésiais and Twi – we’ll do our best to add those languages to our list, so watch this space!
Why are you learning a language?
Next, we wanted to know why you’re learning a language. Nearly half of the respondents chose travel as a reason, and almost as many said they were learning a language just for fun. 36% of respondents said it was for family reasons or for a relationship, and 27% for work. The results were quite evenly split though, showing that there’s no one overwhelming reason – everyone has their own motivation. Among the other reasons, we had a range of answers, including an interest in the culture of the language, personal challenge and wanting to follow literature, film and music in other languages. Many people are living in another country, which was their main motivation for learning the local language. And one person said that their heart asked for the knowledge, which we loved 🙂
What prevents you from learning a language?
We were also interested to know what stops people from learning a language, so we asked you to rate the following reasons out of 5. The most common barrier to learning is a lack of time, followed by not having found the right method, and then the cost involved. Incidentally, if you’re facing any of these barriers, you may like to check out our recent posts, on finding time to learn a language and learning on a budget. And if you’re looking for resources, did you know you can try out the EuroTalk learning method for free? Either visit our website, or download our free app, uTalk for iOS, to give it a go. We believe learning a language should be fun, because our research shows we learn much better if we’re enjoying ourselves, and this in turn makes it a lot easier to overcome the obstacles that get in the way. See what you think! Other answers included not having an opportunity to use the language, a lack of motivation and difficulty finding resources for the particular language they wanted to learn (we may be able to help there – we’ve got 136 languages and counting…).
How have you used your language when travelling?
Finally, we asked how knowing another language has been useful when you’re travelling. There was no clear winner here, which just goes to show knowing a language is always useful! But the top response was that it gives you the ability to talk to locals in their own language; many people added that they felt more welcome as a result and that it gave them independence so they could make the most of their trip. There were lots of practical reasons too, with getting around and eating out narrowly beating shopping in the poll.If you missed out on the survey this time, don’t worry – we’re planning another one soon, so keep an eye on the blog (you can subscribe by email above to get the latest updates), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And if you didn’t answer this survey but would still like to have your say on any of the questions, you’re very welcome to email us or add your thoughts in the comments below.
Data above based on 877 survey responses.