Picking a new language

By Jonathan Wells in London(China Daily)
Updated: 2017-05-17 07:28:32

Getting immersed in a foreign language while learning, such as listening to songs, helps one get a better grip on the language.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Putting aside matters of employability, teaching yourself a new tongue is an invaluable skill: It can increase your mental health and general intelligence, not to mention make holidaying less stressful.

Here's how to go about the task in superfast time. Good luck!

Follow news reports

Narguess Farzad is a senior tutor in the Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East at The School of Oriental and African Studies. She believes that a surefire way to supercharge your learning curve is to follow the news in a foreign language.

"As part of self-study, tuning into the same items of news flashes across all global networks can be useful, especially in an era when the internet gives us access to endless apps and websites," suggests Farzad.

The same can be said for adverts - from national television advertisements to personal ads in local newspapers. "These tend to be easy to follow and are a satisfying way of using basic vocabulary and grammar that you have already learned."

Embrace technology

"Apps now allow anybody, anywhere to practice languages at any time," says Luis von Ahn, a Guatemalan entrepreneur and founder of popular language-learning platform Duolingo.

"Instead of having to sign up for a one-hour class and commute there every day, you can now learn whenever you want - if you're waiting for the bus, if you're bored at home, or if you just have a few minutes to kill. This convenience has fundamentally changed the way people learn, and has gotten millions of people more engaged in learning foreign languages."

Duolingo, for example, has over 150 million users worldwide.

"Technology itself has also helped speed up the learning time of a language," Von Ahn continues. "Because we have so many users, we can find out the most convenient and effective ways to learn a particular new language in a matter of days. If we take the next 50,000 users that sign up to Duolingo, teach half of them plurals before adjectives and the other half adjectives before plurals, and then measure which ones learn better, this helps us help them."

Enjoy songs and films

"I also encourage the use of songs," says Farzad. "In fact, I learned a lot of my English through English pop music long before coming to live in the UK. The lyrics of Terry Jacks' Seasons in the Sun taught me a lot more than all the Janet & John English books!"

Farzad is right. In 2013, a study from the University of Edinburgh discovered that adults who sang words or short phrases from a foreign language while learning were twice as good at speaking it later.

It was suggested that by listening to words that are sung, and by singing them back, the technique takes advantage of the strong links between music and memory.

"Also," adds Farzad, "try watching films as another way of consolidating your language learning process. You can start by watching dubbed versions of originals, such as The Sound of Music or Finding Nemo ... and then move to soaps and thrillers produced in the target language."

Mix with natives

"There aren't many shortcuts that I would recommend," says Ana de Medeiros, director of the Modern Language Centre at King's College London, "but clearly one of the more beneficial methods of learning a new language quickly is to immerse yourself in the culture."

This works better if you already have some rudimentary knowledge of the language. "But, by changing your environment, and actually studying intensively in a country or region where the target language is spoken, you will encounter the words and phrases in very natural situations - which will be very helpful."

"Of course, each student benefits from different approaches, but the best thing is to aim for this repeated exposure to the language you are trying to learn, and engaging in regular speaking practice sessions with a native speaker. Remember, learning a language is very different from simply learning a few choice phrases."



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