While we’re all forced to stay inside our homes, it can become all too easy to get stuck on the sofa to binge-watch all manner of TV shows and movies on services such as Netflix or the appropriately-named, Binge. However, there are plenty of other things you could be doing with all the extra time you now have on your hands.
You could, of course, attempt to stay in fighting fit shape with a range of workouts, or enrol yourself in a cooking class, or just maybe, you could try and learn a new language. While English may be spoken in the vast majority of countries around the world, you can’t always rely on the bartender in some middle-of-nowhere town to understand you when you ask for a pint of Heineken or a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
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Not only that but being able to speak more than one language could give you serious points when it comes to seducing someone for a date. And now that there are several language learning apps and services that can be accessed online, it’s never been easier to become bi- or multilingual.
But before you go thinking it will be too hard and you won’t be able to accomplish anything, take a look at Sam, who tried to learn Mandarin – otherwise known as ‘the world’s hardest language’ – in just one week. Sam had already spent a year in Hong Kong, so was familiar with the language, and how lines and symbols represent what we know as syllables, but to learn and memorise them was a whole different ball game.
With some dedication and a serious amount of hours going into learning and understanding, Sam improved his knowledge of Mandarin in just seven days, being able to have a decent conversation with one of his friends who was fluent.
But what if, unlike Sam, you’re not familiar with a language at all, how much can you really learn in a few weeks? We spoke to Dr. Cindy Blanco, Lead Scientist at Duolingo, one of the most widely used language learning apps in the world, to find out.
Dr. Blanco tells us, “The key to successfully learning a language is making it into a daily habit. When choosing between practising for 5-20 minutes each day versus studying for two hours just once per week, we always recommend the daily approach because it helps you better retain what you are learning.”
“While a week is not a lot of time when it comes to language learning, it is possible to learn more than you think you could within that timeframe.”
“For instance, by sticking with language study for a week, you can pick up on common expressions and basic vocabulary.”
“If you stick with it for a month, you can learn useful sentence structures, a lot more vocabulary, and start better tuning your ear to the language.”
“One easy tip we recommend as you get started with Duolingo is to get into the habit of saying each phrase or sentence in a lesson out loud, even if it is not explicitly a speaking exercise. This helps you better retain the material and gets you comfortable with speaking the language – especially important since most people learn languages in order to speak them with others, whether it’s for travel or another reason.”
We also posed Dr. Blanco with the question of how fluent can you expect to become in your chosen language, in a relatively small timeframe.
“One big misconception that many people have when learning a language is around the concept of “fluency.” The reality is that while fluency is often expressed as a goal of learning a new language, learning a language doesn’t have to mean learning everything in the language you’re studying.”
“Learners often have particular goals in mind when studying a new language, so what counts as success for one learner might look pretty different from the finish line for another.”
“This is why it’s so hard to decide what exactly it means to be “fluent” in a new language; after all, the number of words and kinds of grammar you need in order to have a basic conversation while you’re traveling will differ a lot from the level required to read an academic paper in that language.”
“It’s always best to keep your own goals in mind and set your expectations accordingly.”
Cindy adds that Duolingo labels its courses using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, to “set goals for different proficiency levels when we design our courses. The levels are labelled A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2, and they cover increasingly complex language needs.”
So, now that you know how much you can expect to know in a limited time, what languages should you start learning? If you’ve got a holiday booked in the future, that’s probably the best place to start, but if you simply want to add a second language to your brainbox, Cindy tells us, “For Australians, the top languages being studied over the past month are Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, German, and Chinese.”
“When it comes to “easiest” languages to learn, this largely depends on the individual learner and the languages they already speak.”
“If you’re an English speaker, based on data from the US Foreign Service Institute, languages that have more similarities to English tend to be easier and take less time to learn. These include Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Romanian.”
Dr. Blanco finishes by adding, “Ultimately, what’s most important when learning a new language, no matter which one it is, is maintaining consistency and putting in the time and effort to practice on a daily basis.”