Maybe there’s a new language that intrigues you, but you never seem to get around to actually learning it. You already know that learning the language would help you communicate with more people, understand more media, and maybe qualify for more jobs. But, in case you need a little extra motivation, check out these less well-known benefits:
• Writing about traumatic personal experiences can help you heal from them (link to “How Writing Can Be Good for Your Mental Health”), and research suggests that the benefits are increased if you write about the same incident in two languages. One possible explanation is that one reason writing therapy is effective because it helps people process trauma analytically, and filtering the experience through two different grammatical systems could help people gain more emotional distance from the trauma.
• Thinking in a foreign language can help you think more rationally. In many circumstances, emotional thinking can be a good thing, but it’s helpful to have access to multiple modes of decision-making.
• If you don’t already speak a foreign language, learning a new language to will help you empathize with people whose circumstances dictate that they can’t function socially in their mother tongues.
• Reading or watching news reports in another language will give you access to different perspectives on world events.
Some people have negative memories about having to memorize tables of verb conjugations or what have you. However, there are more-exciting – and more-efficient – ways to learn a language. Benny Lewis – a language-learning expert also known as Benny the Irish Polyglot – has found that an hour a day is all you need. If you feel like you have less than that, start smaller, with fifteen minutes or half an hour. Just do your best to be consistent.
First, obviously, you have to choose a target language. Pick a language that intrigues you and that you’ll be motivated to learn. (If you just want to experiment with language-learning, Esperanto – being a relatively easy language to learn – could be a good starting point!)
You can, of course, buy books and other materials to help you learn your chosen language, but there’s no need to do so, especially at first. For the more popular languages, in fact, there are so many free options that it can be kind of overwhelming. Here is a brief list of free resources in case it helps you to start out by looking at just a few options.
• Memrise. Memrise uses online flashcards to help you build your vocabulary from nonexistent to advanced.
• Duolingo. With 150 million users across the world, Duolingo is one of the most popular ways to start learning a language. Its main feature is a gamified skill tree, available on the website and on the Duolingo app. A recent study found that 34 hours of play on Duolingo yielded the same reading and writing ability as 130 hours of an introductory college course, so if you want to accelerate your introductory study, Duolingo might be the way to go.
• iTalki. On iTalki, you can find people who already speak (or who are also learning) your target language, and then you can plan to practice together on Skype or another video chat. (The site also features teachers and tutors you can pay for online lessons.)
• The internet at large. Many languages have a significant online presence. Find articles, message boards, and videos so you can practice understanding the language in real life.
• If you know a native speaker, consider politely asking if they’ll practice with you. If they agree, make sure to show your gratitude somehow, like by paying for their coffee when you two meet up.
If you haven’t already downloaded eType, you may want to do that as well. It will translate words from nineteen different languages. If you’re studying one of those nineteen, it can help you if you get stuck on a particularly tricky passage.
There are also many free websites and apps that specialize in helping people learn specific languages, so once you know which one you want to learn, get on Google and see what you can find. Happy learning!