Charlemagne, also known as “Pater Europae”, famously said:
“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”
Beyond the soul, languages are good for the mind, too. A 2011 article published on Livescience.com showed that learning a new language can protect our brains from developing Alzheimer’s disease, improve cognitive skills, and keep our minds sharp.
The good news: Thanks to the latest mobile technologies, language barriers are starting to fall. Google Translate’s Phrasebook, for example—a highly-recommended application by Verizon—facilitates communication and helps people learn and remember useful foreign phrases.
The bad news: Despite the neural benefits of learning a foreign language and the many advances in language learning technologies, most people still struggle to learn languages, held back by the myths like “only children can learn a foreign language well”.
In this article, we’ll bust the age myth, along with four other frequent offenders.
Myth 1: “I’m too old to learn a new language.”
People usually think that kids have more flexible brains, which can soak up more information than adults. This is a myth. According to many studies, adults can actually learn new languages more efficiently than children. Thanks to the adult’s mature learning system, they can understand complex grammar structures and memorize new vocabulary far more quickly. It’s never too late to learn something that can help enhance your life.
Myth 2: “Mistakes don’t matter.”
Committing mistakes is a natural, unavoidable part of the learning process. Moreover, you will usually still be understood even with grammatical mistakes if your pronunciation is good and there is a clear context. And even if they don’t understand you, they will appreciate your effort.
But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to fix your mistakes. One of the best ways to improve mistakes is to record yourself talking about a particular topic or event, and then have a native speaker transcribe what you said, highlighting mistakes in your grammar, vocabulary usage, and pronunciation.
Myth 3: “I’m not a fast learner.”
Everyone has their own set of learning curves, and it’s true: learning a new language can be “challenging”, though not necessarily “difficult” if done correctly. In the past, teachers used older methodologies that made adult students more anxious and less motivated to learn new things. But thanks to modern teaching techniques, anybody can learn a significant amount of functional language in a few weeks or months.
One such technique is mastering a small set of basic phrases first. For example:
“Do you speak English?”
“Where is the bathroom/toilet?”
“I understand. / I don’t understand.”
These examples represent many of the top 100 words, which are frequently used in everyday conversations.
Myth 4: “You will learn a language automatically by living abroad.”
While immersion is an essential part of learning a foreign language, the fact is that living in another country alone won’t automatically turn you into a fluent speaker. Some immigrants to the Unites States, for example, have learned that just living in an English speaking country isn’t enough to transform them into fluent English speakers. Without concerted effort, living in a foreign country will likely only lead to mastery of very basic phrases you need to survive, broken sentences, and bad grammar.
On the other hand, with enough effort, you can immerse yourself in language right here in your home country. If you’re learning Japanese, for example, look for a native speaker in your own area who can really teach you. Watch foreign movies or television programs to practice your listening skills. Practice speaking and writing until you reach conversational fluency, and then go abroad to polish your skills and aim for native-like fluency.
Myth 5: “English is the language of the world. Learning a new one isn’t important.”
Only 5% of the world population speaks English, while 95% speak another language. Learning another foreign language, aside from English, is recommended and it can be a fulfilling experience. It helps you understand different cultures, keeps your mind engaged, and you become an asset to your workplace.
As the world becomes more digitally connected, we become more exposed to different languages. From the comfort of your own home, you can easily learn a new language through the Internet, television, and even books. In the end, you’ll gain more and be able to connect with other cultures.