Author – Tamara Segal
People often recognize that being multilingual is associated with career benefits, but did you know that language learning can also enhance your cognitive health? Too often, people graduate from school and leave foreign languages behind in the classroom. Yet, there are some surprising advantages to tackling language learning later in life, too. As you learn a new language, you build up your communication skills, supercharge your brain with heightened activity in its language centers, and possibly even open yourself up to new work and travel experiences.
Fortunately, today’s language learners have a wide range of instruction options that don’t tether them to a traditional classroom. Finding time to learn a new language outside the home can be difficult for people with full-time jobs and busy households. By learning a language at home, you can adopt an instruction schedule that suits your time frame — and you can fit in practice when it’s most convenient for you. As you decide whether to embrace ESL or learn Japanese, Spanish, or French, keep the following information in mind to help you create a learning dynamic at home that supports your learning style.
The benefits of being multilingual
Although there are many new pastimes one might embrace — knitting or gardening, web design or data science — to fill time, learning a new language is both enjoyable and professionally useful. Today, the career marketplace is highly global. Bilingualism and multilingualism can catapult your resume to the top of an employer’s list, especially if the company is international and relies on its multilingual staff to communicate across borders. Learning Korean or German can open up an entire range of job opportunities that you may never have thought of before.
Of course, there are other benefits of learning a new language, too. Language learning actually enhances your mental health. As we age, our cognitive function can diminish just as our physical health can. But, language learning can reduce that cognitive decline, slowing its process as you forge new neural pathways. Learning a language can boost our ability to focus, keeping our minds alert and agile. Many people who engage in language learning report that the time they engage in the study actually improves their mood. As you focus on the enjoyment and challenge of your lessons, you’ll focus less on the stress of all things left undone, giving your mind the opportunity to recharge and rejuvenate from your usual anxieties and inner chatter.
Finally, you might opt to learn a new language so that you’ll be prepared to get out into the world and explore. Being multilingual makes you a more skillful traveler, building confidence and helping you navigate new, far-flung places for a grand travel experience. And learning a new language improves your communication skills — a core interpersonal and professional talent that’ll get you far in relationships, in business, and beyond.
How to set up your learning space
Of course, before you start pricing hotels in Barcelona or Paris, you’ll need to begin language instruction. But before you hire a language tutor or sign up for an online class, prepare your learning space at home so that you have everything you need to support your learning goals conveniently in one area. If you have a home office, you can enlist that space to learn, but you don’t have to dedicate an entire room to your new initiative. A special niche in your bedroom, kitchen, or family room will also suffice.
As you set up your language study area, you’ll want to ensure that it’s both quiet and comfortable. Distractions will prevent you from learning effectively. Opt for a space with good acoustics, since you’ll be doing a lot of language listening. Good lighting is important since you’ll be doing a lot of reading and writing. A desk or small table and comfortable chair are essential furnishings for your study area — but why not take your language learning space to an even more exciting level?
Whether you’ve opted to learn Hungarian or Turkish, why not set up your space with some international flair for inspiration? Add some travel posters to your wall, and keep a globe handy. Incorporate the spirit of your Spanish independent study with a Mexican blanket slung on your chair, or enhance your study of Chinese with some picturesque paper lanterns hung near your window. By creating a fun language learning space, you’ll have a special space with a retreat-like atmosphere that may very easily become your favorite place in the house.
Top 10 hacks for language learning
Once your study space is ready and you know what language you want to learn, it’s time to get down to business. Consider all the various applications available for learning a language at home. The following hacks will help you transform yourself into a multilingual virtuoso — or close to it! Keep them in mind as you develop your language learning goals and make your plan.
Enroll in an online course
Formal instruction is a good option for individuals who prefer to learn with a more-or-less traditional dynamic. If you’re concerned that independent study isn’t conducive to your learning style, consider this tried-and-true learning route. A formal course features highly structured lesson plans, assignment deadlines, and interaction with a teacher and classmates, albeit virtually.
Download the app
You’ve probably seen the advertisements online for any number of language learning apps. Less formal than an online course, these apps still offer learners a rich level of instruction designed to help them progress at a clip. Apps are ideal for independent learners who don’t have time to meet consistently for an online class.
Update your library card
Your local library system will have a wealth of materials to enhance your language-learning experience. Plan to borrow language dictionaries and picture books, novels, and even films in the language you’re learning so you can read, watch, and practice your listening skills. Check out materials in person or reserve them online and pick them up at your convenience.
Quality earbuds, headphones, or speakers
When you’re learning to speak a new language, you need to be able to hear your learning materials clearly. A speaker that crackles or earbuds that cut in and out will compromise your learning experience. Plan to invest in quality listening devices so that you can hear instructors or your language learning app with crystal clarity.
Flashcards work for kids, and they will still work for you, too. In fact, if you have kids, you might want to enlist their help — invite them to quiz you on your German verbs after you quiz them on their multiplication facts. You can also find flashcard apps for literally any language you want to learn.
Hire a language tutor
There comes a point when you might hit a stumbling block or a series of obstacles while learning a new language. Don’t despair! Check with area colleges, and engage a language tutor. This can be especially helpful if you’ve never learned a foreign language before or you want to stay on track and pick up speed as you move from beginner-level learning to the more complex intermediate stages.
Find a learning partner
Convince your bestie, spouse, partner, or friend to consider learning a language with you. When you have a partner, you can keep each other motivated and take turns studying at one another’s homes. Of course, ideally, you’ll want to find someone who’s just as enthusiastic about learning Russian or Portuguese as you are, so choose your language learning pal wisely.
Listen to native speakers
One of the complaints that many students of languages have is that classroom and app models are too formal and not the stuff of everyday language you’ll hear on the streets of Rio, or Naples. Use your devices to track down native language speakers — like watching and listening to videos on the internet. This is particularly helpful if you plan to travel to the country whose language you’re learning.
Be kind and patient with yourself
Too often, people abandon their language pursuits because life interrupts them, and they find it difficult to resume their studies. Keep in mind that it’s okay to learn at your own speed and tempo. It may be asking too much of yourself to learn Italian in six months. If you need to adjust your goals, do it! The key is to keep going — and don’t be afraid to revisit old lessons when you need a refresher.
Immerse yourself in culture
Language learning may seem tedious at times, especially if you’re struggling with tenses or complex sentence structures. Maintain your motivation to keep learning by immersing yourself in the culture of the language. Learning Greek? Invite your best friend to a luncheon at your favorite Greek restaurant. Learning Spanish? Set Saturday nights aside for a tapas feasting! You’ll find that cultural immersion boosts your learning — and enriches your life.
Learning a new language enhances your life in numerous ways while providing you with a marketable skill. As you learn a new language, you’ll develop new communication skills, keep your brain agile, and even discover new writers and artists to read and enjoy as you encounter them in your studies. Before you know it, you’ll be fluent in the language of your choosing, and who knows where you could go from there?