By: Michelle Manganiello
When I mention that I study languages at college, I usually get one of two responses: “Wow! That’s so cool!” or “I don’t know how you do that, languages are so hard for me.” In fact, both answers ring true: languages can be very difficult to learn, but also doubly rewarding in the end.
Knowing another language is one of the most valuable skills to have, especially in this day and age. At its most basic level, a language is another form of communication. Languages serve as a way to deepen a connection with someone, to form relationships and a way to recognize and recall information. One must start with a language to do any task, and then go from there. Additionally, employers are now seeking applicants who have another language under their belt. According to the key findings of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 9 out of 10 U.S. employers rely on employees with language skills other than English. What’s more, 1 in 4 U.S. employers actually lost business due to a lack of language skills. These facts may be surprising to hear, but they are indeed proven and true.
Having another language at your disposal not only makes you attractive to employers, but it also expands your brain’s capacity. Research shows that speaking two or more languages can give your brain a boost by improving attention span, cognitive development and memory improvement.
Knowing another language enhances travel experiences. If you know the native tongue of the country you are visiting, you have the chance to practice when buying souvenirs, ordering food at a restaurant and when making new friends! Knowing more languages allows you to deepen your understanding of another one’s culture and make long-lasting, overseas friendships.
Speaking another language also makes you a smarter learner. By devoting time to memorize all the vocabulary, the infinite verb conjugations and those bizarre grammatical rules, your brain is becoming more apt to picking up and making sense of information. After learning one language, the second one is always easier. What’s more, you can pick up language hacks to make the learning process go by quicker.
Now that we’ve established why it’s important to know and practice another language, we should touch on some useful resources to practice and learn it outside of the traditional classroom setting. Let’s take your language comprehension to the next level using some of these tactics:
First, watch the news and Youtube videos in the language you are attempting to learn. If it is a habit for you to listen to the headlines daily, or even if it isn’t, start doing this. World news is information that everyone should be familiar with. And what better way to listen to it every day than in the language you are learning? If you didn’t quite understand what you just watched, listen to the news in English, then listen to it again in the foreign language to reinforce your comprehension of the worldly issues and events.
Another great resource is podcasts. Podcasts are useful because they allow you to listen to your language being spoken in a slower and somewhat more interesting fashion than the news. There are so many language podcasts, ranging from history, to self-care, to actual language course podcasts. I specifically recommend Coffee Break Languages — a podcast series run by Mark Pentleton. He has been a lifelong language learner and teacher and offers language podcasts in French, Italian, Spanish, German and Chinese. Mark is clever, witty and he has an additional language expert with every episode. You’ll be laughing, as well as learning, throughout the whole episode.
If you want to actually practice speaking your foreign language, Italki is a great resource available. Italki allows you to learn a language online by booking lessons with foreign language instructors who are usually native speakers. You can sign up for lessons that teach you grammar and vocabulary, or for different lessons if you just want to have casual conversations in the language. If you don’t feel like paying for lessons, you can just connect with other learners of the language and Skype with them. If you are an English speaker learning Italian and you see an Italian speaker learning English, then you can Skype with them and the video chat session would give both of you a chance to improve your language comprehension and speaking abilities.
There are several good apps out there to facilitate language learning. Two of the best are Memrise and Duolingo. Both apps give you practice exercises, games and interactive quizzes to build your language construction and vocabulary words.
There’s plenty of online resources to help with language learning, but let’s not forget that the joy of practicing and using a language all stems from speaking with other people. This is why I recommend going to local conversation tables in your area. Atlanta and Athens both have French, Spanish, and Italian conversation groups that allow you to go for a couple of hours and meet new and interesting people while simultaneously speaking your foreign language with them. The Meetup website and app allows you to effectively research language conversation groups in your city. This may seem like a scary step to take, but it’s worth it. After months of studying and learning a language, it truly pays off to use a language in the real world with real people.
Of course, the most effective way to learn a language and fully become fluent is to go to the country. This doesn’t mean just going there for a quick vacation, saying a couple of words in Spanish, and then leaving after two weeks. No, I’m talking about staying in the country for at least 6 months to a year and immersing yourself in that country by interacting with the native people daily. Get to the point where thinking in that language requires no effort — make it as easy understanding, writing and speaking in English. This would require a substantial amount of time, money and effort, so it may not be realistic for everyone. Nonetheless, it is a great goal to have.
If you do desire to go to the actual country to practice, UGA has a number of possible study abroad programs that allow students to also practice the language of their choice. There are programs in South America, Europe, Asia, New Zealand and Australia for almost every major. Three of the most popular programs at UGA are UGA Cortona, UGA Costa Rica and UGA Oxford. You can find more information about these and many others at a study abroad fair or by visiting UGA’s website for the Office of Global Engagement.
The resources mentioned in this article are only the tip of the iceberg for opportunities to expand one’s language learning. However, I have used these methods for years, and I can say with certainty that they are effective. Learning a language may seem like a daunting task, but if you commit to it weekly, then you will see the progress taking shape right in front of you. As a common Czech proverb states, “You live a new life for every language you speak. If you know only one language, you live only once.”