Why Now is the Perfect Time to Learn a New Language
-By Zoë Bell
For those of us missing travel, learning a language is the perfect way to prepare for your next adventure.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, flights are grounded around the world. Rather than travel, now is the time to stay home, flatten the curve, and patiently wait until this crisis is behind us.
But that does not mean that we should forget about travel entirely. For those of us stuck in isolation, learning a foreign language is an excellent way to explore another culture without leaving the house.
Diving into the language of the country you are most excited to visit when all of this is over is the perfect distraction for these uncertain times. While the best way to learn a language may be immersion, there are lots of opportunities to learn a language right from your couch. Here are some tips and tricks—and apps—for learning a new language during the coronavirus lockdown:
Why learn a foreign language
Navigate new places
It is an excellent idea to brush up on basic terms and greetings in the language of your chosen destination. There are many practical reasons to learn the basics before you travel: for example, knowing how to ask for directions will keep you from getting lost, and learning how to ask for certain foods—particularly if you have any allergies or dietary concerns—will make life on the road so much easier.
Make genuine connections
There is also a personal aspect: the ability to communicate in a local language breaks down barriers—it transforms you from a casual tourist to a curious traveler.
Speaking the local language also opens you up to new friendships. A great benefit of traveling is meeting people from different cultures; but, if you are unable to speak the language, you may struggle to make genuine connections with people you meet on your journeys.
Being able to ask personal questions—even basic ones like “How are you?” and “What do you do?”—will help you learn more about the lives of people you meet. Once you are able to strike up a conversation with a local, you can ask about the best places to visit on your trip—giving you a more authentic travel experience.
Train your brain
Beyond traveling, there are many other proven benefits to learning a new language. Studying languages improves mental agility: according to a study from Pennsylvania State University, bilingual speakers are better multitaskers. Since their brains are comfortable mentally juggling both languages, bilingual speakers can therefore evaluate priorities more quickly than monolingual speakers. Plus, learning a language improves your memory: multilingualism has proven to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
How to learn a language from home
So, with all these excellent reasons to learn a foreign language, how do you do it? Since traveling to foreign destinations is not possible right now, language learning must take place at home. There are a host of language apps, online classes, and personal tutoring programs that will help improve your language skills.
Online language platforms:
Language apps like Duolingo are great because they turn learning into a game. This platform offers short free lessons online and on their mobile app. Duolingo tracks your progress and offers incentives for you to continue practicing—it encourages you to keep up your “streak” and log-in at least once per day. The platform encourages “implicit learning:” it allows users to pick up on grammar rules and patterns themselves while learning basic vocabulary and useful phrases. Duolingo also offers podcasts for learning French and Spanish.
Babbel’s app and online platform also offer short lessons (usually between 10-15 minutes), so you can easily fit a quick practice into your schedule. One difference between Duolingo and Babbel is that Babbel includes cultural lessons along with grammar tools, in the hopes that users will gain a better understanding of the places where each language is spoken.
Rosetta Stone is one of the biggest language learning brands; however, it is more costly than many other options. It has a wide range of languages compared to Duolingo and Babbel (there is Turkish, Persian, Swedish, Vietnamese, and many, many more). Twelve-month access to all languages is about $200 for the year; while lifetime access is about $370 upfront. It is a big investment—but it may be worth it if you are ready to commit fully to your language learning goals.
Rosetta Stone features live lessons with native teachers. Online, users can go to the “studio” and schedule one-on-one video sessions. Rosetta Stone also works with an “immersion” technique: the platform never uses your native language—translations, instead, are represented with photos and untranslated text and audio.
Once you have the basics down for your language of choice, Conversation Exchange is a helpful way to practice communicating with a native speaker. Pre-pandemic, this platform helped users arrange meetings between English speakers and native speakers of other languages in their local area. Now, correspondence on Conversation Exchange is done through email, text, voice, and video chat. There is no cost involved, as both participants get to practice their language skills. And, it’s a great way to learn more about a person’s culture and pick up some useful slang.
Similar to Conversation Exchange, Italki connects language learners with a personal tutor for one-on-one language practice. The platform boasts more than 10,000 teachers, so there will likely be a match for any language you hope to practice. While Italki does cost money, the amount you pay is dependent on the qualifications of the tutor you choose: there are both “professional” teachers, with relevant degrees and teaching qualifications, and “community” tutors, who are simply proficient in their language and want to teach others. Lessons with community tutors can be much cheaper, making this platform an affordable option.
Language Pod 101 providers listeners with fun audio podcast lessons. Focusing on the way the language is spoken, these podcasts can help you absorb the lessons that you have learned. It helps with immersion, too, as you hear how people actually talk. These lessons are short and entertaining, so it is easy to listen to while you make dinner, clean the house, or walk around the block.
Learning a language takes time and patience. When using language learning apps or conversation platforms, it is important to be consistent; squeezing in a quick lesson every day is a great way to stay motivated and slowly build your understanding.
According to language experts, it is helpful to speak the language regularly, even when you are just starting out. Take the time to learn useful phrases—ones that you can picture yourself using on your travels—and practice them as often as possible. Speaking and listening to your new language (whether through podcasts, personal tutoring sessions, or just watching foreign-language television with subtitles) will help on your journey.
Then, when we can all travel again, you’ll be well-equipped to hop off the plane and start experiencing your next destination like a local.
Zoë Bell is a freelance writer and avid traveler currently pursuing a master’s in International Journalism at City, University of London.