Have you ever watched a bilingual person switch between two languages and thought to yourself “I wish I could do that?”. This is how many of us feel when we see the confidence with which someone moves between languages, especially if there are more than two in play. It can be easy to think that they have some special gift, but often these people are no more intelligent than you or I – they’ve just had the time, and often a motivating reason, to learn more languages. Just think of how many footballers – hardly an academic occupation – can conduct post-match interviews in a language other than their own.
Not only is it possible to learn another language – whoever you are, and whatever age you are – it’s also generally a good idea. It’s increasingly open to more and more people too. If you have a smartphone, then you have access to courses which can offer you a thorough grounding in languages that go far beyond the usual options you were offered at school. And, as we’ll see in a moment, there are several excellent reasons why you should give another language a try.
If you are thinking of learning a new language with your child or are wanting to help them with their school based language lessons then follow these top tips for helping your child learn a new language and together you will have it mastered in no time.
It strengthens your memory
The brain is more complex than any other part of the body, and yet it has many of the same properties, one of which is that the more you use it, the fitter it will become. The language centres of the brain are some of its most powerful and most useful, and learning a whole new vocabulary gives them a strong boost. Your own native tongue is so familiar to you that you can often speak without thinking much. Testing that part of your brain by having to think of a dog as un chien, ein Hund or even con chó (that’s Vietnamese, if you’re wondering) helps sharpen those memory centres.
It offers a new perspective
Speaking a new language takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us look at things differently, as the above paragraph makes clear. For kids, school trips to Italy offer a chance to practice Italian, of course, but they have greater benefits than that. They allow a child to experience life as it is lived in another country, to better understand other perspectives and to adopt some of the ways of other cultures in their own lives. There’s never a bad time to get a broader mind, and learning another language assists in this.
It makes you a better communicator – even in English
When you use words without thinking, it can be easy to fall into a standard, simple pattern which is useful in specific settings. Opening up those language centres does make you think more about how you say what you say. It even makes you think about why a certain word means a certain thing. For example, the German for raccoon is ein Waschbär; in Swedish it is en tvättbjörn; and in French, it’s un raton-laveur. These names translate as “washing bear” in the first two cases, and “little washing rat” in the latter, because raccoons tend to “wash” their food before eating it. Just knowing that little fact makes us think about the words we use, and makes us better communicators.