It is 2017 and one might be forgiven for wondering what the need is for learning a second language when English is becoming the global language. What benefits are there to wrapping your head around another tongue and what is the best way to learn a new language?
I have been pre-emptively researching these very questions over the last couple of weeks in case one of my children poses one of them at some point. Theirs is a world very different from the one I grew up in where school language lessons were the only way of being taught the basics of French, German or Spanish. I have memories of dry information being taught to me by rote in a less than inspiring classroom. I am sure that was not the case for everyone but it was certainly my experience. We had to learn a language even if it was a hard, dull slog.
These days there are a plethora of apps and tutorials instantly available. Anyone of pretty much any age can find a language app and have a go at learning a foreign language whilst sipping tea or eating cake. This instant information is great but does it give you the same experience as being with a teacher?
I would have to say no. It is easy to dip in and out of a phone app a couple of times a year maybe just before you pack your suitcase for your summer holiday and then again when you return home filled with dreams of beginning a new life in that lovely sunny destination. The information can be quickly absorbed yet it might not have the longevity. By that I mean that the nature of our fast paced instant access lives can make us quite faddy - today it's Spanish, tomorrow it is step-counting. There is something transient about apps as they can be today's great passion quickly replaced by tomorrows. Locate, learn and then delete.
That's not to say that they don't have their place. They are fantastic for sparking an interest in a language. They are an excellent way to supplement a language course and can provide timely reminders to practice each day. They aren't conversational though which is why the best way to learn really is with a native tutor.
Immersion in a language is invaluable and so for this reason being taught by a native speaker of any language is as close as it gets to living in the country itself. Native speakers understand the subtleties of their language, the almost imperceptible nuances that can be lost or misinterpreted from a book or app alone. Engaging interactive lessons, especially for children, are a must because languages need to be taught in a fun, lively way. They can't be learnt in isolation because by virtue they are the way we as humans all communicate.
Learning another language is the key to another culture. If you only ever speak to natives of another country when you are there in English and they respond to you in their second language of English, you will never quite get to know them and their culture fully. Visiting and being able tocommunicate unlocks their world to you. I look forward with great anticipation to the time when I can visit Germany and truly immerse myself in German culture - to see it from within will be such a pleasure.
I watched a fabulous TED talk by John McWhorter in which he discusses the reasons he thinks learning a language is important. As a linguist he is incredibly experienced and revels in the magic of languages. The patterns and wordplay seem to fill him with wonder and his talk reflects this. One thing which both surprised me and made perfect sense to me is when he states that learning a second language reduces the risk of dementia. A second language has a physiological benefit too which for someone whose own mother has just been diagnosed with a variant of this condition, is a a huge added incentive to learn, learn and learn a little more.
Learning a second language can improve your confidence levels by making you realise your own potential. Native speakers will praise your efforts which is a huge motivator. There is also the pride that comes with being able to show off slightly in front of friends and family – it's a cheeky reason but true.
Learning a second language with a native speaker not only helps us relate to people from different parts of the globe, build our self confidence and make us feel just a bit cooler, it also keeps our noodles in top notch condition.
What are you waiting for?