The benefits of learning a second language
By Sophie Isbister, Life & Style Editor
Growing up on the West Coast, I didn’t have much occasion to learn a second language, let alone Canada’s second official language, French. But a recent trip to Quebec made me realize that perhaps it would be handy to expand my French-speaking ability beyond a vague knowledge of food names, gleaned from my experience with bilingual grocery items.
Linguistic polymath Benny Lewis, fluent in eight languages, writes on Lifehacker.com that the trick to becoming fluent in a language is setting specific goals. Don’t vaguely say, “I want to learn French!” With this in mind, I’ve made it my goal to be able to speak conversational French by the time I go back to Quebec in February. I want to be able to tell my French-speaking family—some of whom are elderly with little English-speaking ability—about my work and my education.
There are a bunch of ways in which a second language can improve your life, including mental flexibility, memory, ability to multitask, and a whole slew of new media for you to consume. But there are also practical reasons to learn French in particular: the BC branch of Canadian Parents for French (CPF) reports that, “About 40 [per cent] of all positions in the Public Service of Canada—about 67,000 jobs—are bilingual. In addition, the Federal Student Work Experience Program recruits students for federal departments and agencies to fill approximately 7,000 temporary student jobs each year.”
The classroom isn’t the only place you can learn a second language, and in fact, classroom learning might be a poor model when it comes to the spoken word. Language doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It isn’t just a set of rules and vocabulary words. It is a conversation, a method of communication. When we learn our first spoken language as children, we do it in a natural way, through repetition and context. The trick to learning a second language as an adult, says Lewis, is to try to recreate this method.
Lewis recommends regular practice, and suggests using a free language exchange website like www.italki.com to connect with native speakers of the language you want to learn. They key is to not feel like an idiot: you will probably pronounce things poorly and have a limited vocabulary, but don’t be deterred. Stick to your goal, and practice a minimum of 30 minutes per day.
If you’re willing to spend some money on your goal, language learning systems (such as the Pimsleur Method and Rosetta Stone) are available online. The Pimsleur Method stresses a gradual use of the language, and challenges you to recall previously learned phrases in an audio-based 30-minute daily lesson. Rosetta Stone is a language learning software that has a stricter pedagogy than the Pimsleur Method, involving matching words and phrases with pictures.
Both paid methods have a large following of users, but when the language isn’t practiced with native speakers, these methods are less effective. Still, regardless of what method you choose—whether paid or with little personal expense—with regular use and clear goals, it’s possible to learn a language quickly.
For more tips on language learning, check out Benny Lewis’s website, www.fluentin3months.com