The Connection of Language
How learning a language can unlock our future
This post was written by Nick
Sat on a plane almost a year to the day, taking on a completely new challenge by moving to the Spanish capital, Madrid. With just an “Hola”, “Adios” and “Gracias” in my word box to get me by, this was certainly going to be out of my comfort zone. How would I connect with the locals, find work, order lunch, set up bills or ask for directions?
Almost a year on, I’ve discovered a few things about the importance of learning another language. Although my level is nowhere near where I’d like it to be yet, I’ve learnt to try and love the process, rather than focusing on the result. With this approach, although not always comfortable, it has given me more confidence to make mistakes (#welovemistakes) and to not care about making them. Win or learn. This is the key to learning any new skill, particularly a new language; and confidence is a skill that can also be learned.
Language is the way in which we connect. It is how we can express ourselves and describe our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Having another language under our belts allows us to connect and potentially serve millions of people. Through our words we can seek to understand others through our questions. We can form questions off the back of responses, we can show empathy through our language, and we can inspire others through our encouraging words.
Since teaching English, my admiration and respect for language learning has increased significantly. Teaching many students and getting to know Spanish people since my time in the country has inspired me to learn Spanish as well as possible so I can serve and help others in as many ways – not just through teaching English.
I will be honest, learning a brand-new language is certainly a challenge, but one that I think is worth the time and effort. The number of times I’ve got frustrated and annoyed at my ‘lack of progress’, from not understanding most questions, not being able to find out information, not knowing how to order something at a bar, or forgetting a word that I thought I’d learned already! As humans, we thrive on making progress and therefore it is essential to feel like we are moving forward and progressing when learning a new skill or taking on a new challenge. In David Epstein’s wonderful book ‘Range’, he explains from his research that it’s during the struggle of trying to learn something that the brain is really getting to work. It is processing and learning to connect the dots, storing away the information, and priming long-term memory. It’s during the struggle that the learning takes place. ‘Learning is most efficient in the long run when it is really inefficient in the short run’. He continues, ‘Frustration is not a sign you are not learning, but ease is’.
This applies directly to language learning. Therefore, it’s well worth remembering that when you are trying but struggling – it’s an essential part of the process, which will pay off in the future.
A few tips I’ve learnt to help learn a new language is to engross yourself in an environment of that language as much as practically possible. This includes television, movies, music, and news in the language. Turn your phone settings into that language (oh yes this is so frustrating when you really need to find something in a rush!) but that’s just part of the journey. If possible, take a few classes, to help understand grammar, structure, vocabulary, and pronunciation. Attend some language exchanges. This may feel a little out of your comfort zone, but you’ll quickly be pleased you did it, as you will soon meet many others in the same position as you. Not only this, but you will also see your confidence improve every time and you’ll meet interesting people from all backgrounds.
So why learn a new language? Learning a new language opens new opportunities, it grows your confidence which can apply across all parts of your life. You meet people who are on a similar journey, and this, alongside common interests, often creates new friendships. Language learning also opens new pathways in your brain and can have positive effects on brain health. Not only this but there is plenty of data that suggests that your native vocabulary, both in writing and speaking improves when you learn a different language.
Are these enough reasons to try and start learning a new language if you’re not already? Wherever you are on your journey, whatever your age or experience it is never too late to learn something new. Learning a language might just open the door to some of your greatest future opportunities. A small effort each day will pay off into big results so be consistent, stay patient and have some fun!