I don’t know about you, but I love New Year’s Eve. Not because of all the parties (twelve months ago I saw in the new year at home with a cup of tea, because I’m that cool), but because it’s a great time to set some new goals.
Of course, you can set goals any time, but there’s something special about the fresh start that comes with a new year. It’s like the first page of a brand new notebook; any previous failed attempts or mistakes are erased and you can start over with a clear target in mind.
Yesterday the British Council, supported by actor Larry Lamb, launched a #LearnALanguage campaign, which aims to get Brits learning a language in 2016.
And over 200 people will be doing just that with our free uTalk challenge, which starts tomorrow – learning everything from French to Wolof (there’s still time to join, by the way…).
But why should you learn a language this new year? Here are my top 4 reasons:
Everyone likes making new friends, and it’s a lot easier to do that if you speak the same language. Sometimes all it can take is one word to break the ice, so even if all you know is ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ or ‘where is the toilet?’ – hey, it’s a start. (And if you can speak a bit of Xhosa or Korean, it’s a great way to show off at parties and instantly become the coolest person in the room.)
The New Year is a time for new opportunities… and learning a language brings you so many. Travel the world. Get a new job. Meet the love of your life. As Larry Lamb says in this video, his enjoyment of languages directly led to his 40-year career as an actor – who knows where it could take you?
It’s good for your brain
A not so nice side effect of the New Year celebrations is the reminder that we’re a year older and time is passing far too terrifyingly quickly. So let’s grab the chance to help out our poor ageing brains; research has shown that bilingual people have better memories and are more successful at multitasking, and speaking a second language can delay the onset of dementia.
And sometimes, that’s the only reason you need. Discovering a new language and culture is one of the most fascinating and rewarding things you can do, and there really is nothing like the buzz you get the first time you have a conversation with someone – however basic – and the two of you understand each other.
So, which language will you learn in 2016?
Happy New Year everyone!
This year in November I went for my first trip in the USA. I was lucky enough to spend my birthday in sunny Florida and it was wonderful! But the story I want to share with you starts earlier than that, on our way. After a 10 hour long flight spiced with excitement, plans and anticipation we landed at Miami Airport. We went through a few security checks and at the last one, there was a nice man who greeted me in good Romanian after checking my passport. When I asked how it is that he knows Romanian, he said he visited our country not too long ago and he made great friends and saw beautiful places.
The stress of the airport was immediately relieved when I heard the Romanian words, and even more because they came from a native English speaker, who learned a few expressions in a language that he probably won’t have much use for except delighting Romanian citizens with “Bună ziua” and “Ce mai faci?”
Once we settled into our flat, we went for a walk to discover the city. My boyfriend is a native Spanish speaker and we always comment when we hear someone speaking Spanish on the street here in London, so when the situation occurred we did the same. Then another time. And another time. It’s pretty accurate to say that we heard more Spanish than English in Miami.
I was surprised when I was addressed questions in Spanish from a shop keeper when I wanted to pay for the shopping – I understood from some of the words and gestures that she was asking me if I needed a bag so I proudly replied, “No, gracias!” I immediately got an adrenaline rush from this first time speaking Spanish with a stranger – amazing! It was probably an ordinary conversation for her, but for me it felt like a very important step in my language learning.
We drove further north to Orlando where we noticed that Spanish wasn’t as popular, but you’d still hear it here and there. If you are passionate about languages, I strongly recommend Walt Disney World’s Epcot park – around a big beautiful lake there are many different “countries” with specific food and people that speak local languages, as well as buildings and shops decorated by the specific styles. We went for a Mexican lunch in a Maya pyramid and we got nachos on the house, which was pretty great.
One of the reasons travelling is so amazing is that you find yourself in many different situations and you just have to play it by ear and that’s really fun and exciting. Next time you travel, give our uTalk app a try and you’ll be able to chat with locals as well. Maybe even get free nachos, who knows?
Nancy Reynolds is a freelance writer from the USA, who’s currently working on a novel. In her spare time she studies Persian and has vocabulary contests with her teenaged daughter who has studied Latin, German, Mandarin and Ancient Greek. Here’s her language story…
For some people, learning a foreign language is good for business, a school requirement or a necessity because of a move. For me, it started in eighth grade with French, but more recently, it was to understand some Iranian friends I made on the Internet. Although my friends all know English, when they wrote posts in Persian, I felt left out. Although the different alphabet seemed daunting, I had studied Cyrillic for Russian and had done well, so I figured I could learn another alphabet. One reason I keep at it is to be able to read more and understand more of the Persian in movies.
A rewarding aspect of learning any foreign language is to understand another person. Values and concepts can be a direct result of the kind of language a person uses. Persian past tenses can distinguish between whether the life of a person in the past is still relevant today or not. We don’t have that in English. The term for a double bed in Italian is “letto matrimoniale,” implying that a person shouldn’t be sleeping in such a bed if not married. Which verb for “to be” you use in Spanish to tell someone she looks good will reveal whether you mean all the time or just today.
One of my greatest challenges in learning Persian is having to do it outside of a classroom. My friends are very busy or want me to help them with English, so I get little practice with spoken Persian. EuroTalk has made a difference because it is fun and I can use it whenever I want. The promotional assertion that it is good for five minutes or for hours of learning is quite true.
Ioana at EuroTalk asked me what my favorite word in my favorite language is, but I don’t think she was expecting the answer I have. It is “love” in English. To choose my favorite word in Persian is a challenge! I guess it would have to be “salam”, which means “hello”. Why? I have learned hello in many languages.
It is a thrill to greet someone in his or her language, get a stunned expression and then a broad smile. Such a simple word says I care about communication enough to step outside of my comfort zone.
Sometimes a funny, weird or awkward situation has occurred when I used a foreign language with a native or another speaker. In French I unintentionally propositioned a friend! Fortunately, he knew what I meant. Two delightful moments speaking Persian with natives were when I asked “Khoobi?” It is the casual way to say “How are you?” They were quite impressed.
A fun triumph, though, was reading the Persian on a soda can in a friend’s photo. Even though some of the letters were obscured, I still could read the well-known brand name: Fanta. I’ll drink to that.
What’s your inspiration for learning a language? Today we’re hearing from Jack, a student and blogger at LangLearningBlog, on how he got addicted…
What inspired you to start learning French?
I never really was fond of languages, and I only studied French at school for a GCSE in a language – but bear with me! Soon I became almost addicted to language learning and I actually started enjoying learning completely alien and new vocabulary. Some thrive from obsessing over football fixtures and their league tables, others however (us!), are addicted to language learning. Let them obsess over futile fixtures. Meanwhile, we can be learning all the words a language holds!
What gives you motivation to continue learning?
Getting yourself motivated to learn new vocab or review flashcards is so difficult (especially when they’ve been stored at the back of a drawer for a few months!!).
My main motivation hack is that I keep my learning sessions short but regular. Not five minutes, but never over one hour, I find vocab literally pours into my brain doing regular learning sessions. Obviously there’s been days where I’ve done little or no vocab learning or reviewing, a.k.a ‘forgetting days’. Short bursts or an adrenaline-kicking 30 minutes are definitely my way forward to keeping motivated.
YouTube definitely helps, personally I think the short TED Talks speeches are great. They cover a huge range of topics, including language learning, and are never too lengthy. Beware though, or before you know it you’ll be watching pandas falling down slides and dogs dancing – one could say I have some experience getting distracted by YouTube.
What’s your biggest language learning challenge?
My learning routine has always been split into two halves: school and home independent study. School would give me the content, and my vocab learning at home would help me consolidate this and go further. Harder in practice though. One of the biggest challenges I had was the content that GCSE French covered. There was no ‘off the cuff’ speaking, nor conventional speaking topics (except food). The course seemed to shy away from practical topics that I’d actually need in France, like ordering bus tickets. So doing online reviewing programmes and not being able to translate some really simple stuff, it felt like learning the language was a waste.
What’s your favourite French expression?
On my visit to St-Etienne, France, I did work experience in a primary school. One night, some of the students on the work experience and teachers at the school went to a restaurant, and were all sat around this square table. Conversation slowed and we divided into two groups: English natives and French natives. It then turned to ;it’s raining cats and dogs’, then soon after all the students attempting to explain other idioms too. Trying to decode the French idioms to English was hard. I did manage to glean from the French idiom conversation ‘manger les pissenlits par la racine’. It translates literally as ‘eating the dandelions by the roots’, roughly meaning ‘pushing up daisies’. Obviously my favourite French expression to date – not because it’s unusual, but because it still reminds me of some of the French native’s facial expressions it got in return.
What do you find to be most rewarding about language learning?
Having the chance to visit the country is definitely the most rewarding thing about the entire years-long learning process. Before I knew it I was conversing with a bookshop assistant asking them to recommend books, and where I’d find them. I was explaining tasks to groups of primary school children and earwigging into conversations on the plane (apparently some French people really like TK Maxx).
After years of learning what felt like an artificial language, as I’d never heard it in action, all this learning had finally paid off, allowing me to not only have some great conversations, but also food – French crêpes and cheese cannot be described in words.
If you, like us, are now dreaming of crêpes (and cheese), and you’ve been inspired to learn some French, visit our website to see how we can help. Or download uTalk for iOS and start learning for free!
Blogger Erika Holt is a big fan of languages and learning. In today’s blog post, she tells us why, and explains how knowing a little Greek helped her out in a sticky situation…
What made you start learning languages?
I have always found myself interested in languages. I have a huge passion for reading and writing, I think that it stems from that, coupled with my hunger for learning new things. I am slightly obsessed with learning, I always have my nose in a book or am completing an online course in one thing or another. I just feel like there is so much to know.
What gives you motivation to continue learning?
I just find it really enjoyable. Years ago I would learn a language (as much as was possible), before visiting a country for a holiday, now it is more to give me the chance to explore more of the internet and books. I also thoroughly enjoy the way various languages are connected, how one has influenced another and so on.
What do you find to be most rewarding about language learning?
It is definitely the moment when you absent mindedly come across the language and read/speak it without thinking, then realise what you have done. It gives you access to so much more of the world and enables you to meet new people.
What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
My challenges stem from how my illnesses can affect my concentration, understanding and memory. I find that having a mobile app really helps, it enables me to learn whenever I want to, rather than having to sit at a computer. Apps also allow for a repetitive learning process, this lets me really cram that knowledge into my brain, over and over, this helps me to retain it better.
The apps are also good for days when I am bedridden; it can get so boring being stuck in bed, but having the chance to feel like I am still being productive makes a huge difference to me.
What is your favourite word/expression in your favourite language?
It is ‘Douitashimashite’ and it simply means ‘you’re welcome’ in Japanese. I love the word, it is beautiful and rolls off of the tongue once you have learnt it. The Japanese people are very polite, something I love, having been brought up in such a way that manners are extremely important.
I have to admit I also, for some reason, have a bizarre one lodged in my brain – ‘Was ist loss? Meine kaninchen ist weggalaufen.’ This translates to ‘What is wrong? I have lost my rabbit.’ Yep, this is one sentence I can not forget and I love saying it, I just need to talk to more German people!
Any funny situations when you used Greek with a native speaker?
There was this one time when I visited Greece, the island of Kefalonia, which is a beautiful place. I had learnt as much Greek as I humanly could before going on holiday, I was able to have a basic conversation and order food, drinks and so on. It was a lovely experience and the Greeks really appreciated the effort I had made.
One morning I was walking along the stunning beach, which was practically deserted. All of a sudden, as the sun was warming and the sea lapping at the shore, I could hear this woman’s voice. At first I thought she was calling my name, as I moved closer I didn’t recognise her or the gentleman with her. I realised she was shouting ‘Ella, ella’ which I believe means ‘come here’. I went over and neither of the elderly people spoke a word of English – why would they, being Greeks, living in Greece? So I had to use the minimal vocabulary and some questionable sign language to establish what was wrong.
Now I should set the scene a little: the gentleman was as thin as a bean stalk, wearing trousers and a shirt with braces, he even had a hat on. The lady was his polar opposite, rather large and wearing just a swimming costume, she had this wild black curly hair that made her seem very odd to me and was obviously shouting at me in Greek. It was a strange situation, what was worse was that both her and the old man were standing in the sea up to their knees.
The lady was getting more and more agitated that I didn’t understand her, it was early morning so I couldn’t go for help either. Eventually, I worked out that both her and her husband were stuck, their feet had sunk into the sand and they couldn’t move. I gathered that it was in fact the lady who had found herself in this situation and her lovely husband, who had been watching her swim from the beach, had ventured in to help and ended up being stuck himself, bless him.
So there I am, 5’3″, a little thing at the time, and I am trying to pull out this couple from the sea. Of course I ended up in the drink myself, but managed to free the lovely pair after some rather awkward pushing and pulling. I was proud of my good deed, but to my surprise the old couple turned and waddled off down the beach without a word, the old man being berated by his wife, leaving me drenched.
Do you have a language story to share? We’d love to hear from you! Email email@example.com for more details.