Sprechen sie Deutsch?
How about Français?
Or maybe a little bit of Español?
If you grew up in Australia, chances are you probably picked up a little bit of French, Italian, Japanese, Indonesian or German in your LOTE (Languages Other Than English) class in school… and then probably forgot about it as soon as classes stopped unless you were genuinely interested in visiting that country and kept learning on your own time.
Let’s be honest: it can be difficult to muster up enthusiasm in school when you may get stuck learning a language you know you’ll never use. However, once we become adults with the power to choose whichever language we’d like to learn, it can still slip down in our list of priorities. You may worry it would be expensive, time-consuming or just plain confusing to start, but learning a second (or third, fourth or fifth!) language can be very rewarding. Not only does it open up a wealth of new social and travel experiences to you, but it can also be a great mental exercise to help you stay sharp. The potential is limitless, so here’s how to get stuck in.
How you can dive right in
The tough part about sitting down and actually learning something as complex as an entire language is that sitting in a room with a text book and nothing else can be very discouraging. Even in the days before the Internet, most people recommended more interactive and engaging learning methods such as taking a group class, hiring a tutor or listening to instructional audio tapes.
With the advent of the Internet and the wealth of technology that supports it, there are plenty of learning resources to help you get started, whether you’re an absolute beginner or you want to move past the basics and become a proficient speaker. Two of the big names in this field are Duolingo and Babbel, which are both available on desktop, iOS and Android. The best part is they’re free to use, so they’re a great way to dip your toe in the water.
I personally use Duolingo, which currently offers 27 different language courses for English speakers (some are still in beta) including a couple of constructed languages like Esperanto and Star Trek’s Klingon. You can set a daily goal for yourself starting from just five minutes per day, and the courses are broken down into bite-sized pieces. You can also redo a completed section or hop into a general practice at any time to make sure material you’ve already covered stays fresh in your mind. Duolingo is designed to encourage you to make a bit of progress every day, so I highly recommend it as a place to start.
Taking the next steps and returning the favour
Once you’ve picked up the basics, you may want to move on to more complex translations or conversations with native speakers. Of course, you may get to a point where you need to consider taking a paid course or hiring a tutor, particularly for the finer nuances of grammar or writing languages which use a different alphabet, but there are still some websites which can help you with your fluency in another language.
Lang-8 is a great place to put up writing in the language you’re learning and have it corrected by native speakers for grammar and a more natural way of putting together sentences. You can also help out other people by correcting their texts written in your native language; the whole website works on a points system, so if you help out other people with English or another language you’re fluent in, your own texts will be bumped up in the list and you’ll be more likely to receive corrections in return. There’s also the option to send people friend requests so you’ll each know when the other has new writing posted.
Interpals is another social website designed to be a digital take on the practice of penpals, with participants from virtually every country in the world. Although it’s a bit more socially inclined than a corrections-driven site like Lang-8, most people are still willing to help you learn. If nothing else, it’s a great way to meet new people and ask for recommendations about things to do and places to visit in their home country. If you start saving at the same time you start learning, you might even be able to make your next holiday much more interesting. So go on; expand your horizons!
Which languages are you learning? Tell us in the comments.