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You Can Haz Spanish!

Last month, we wrote about the potentially dire consequences of the UK’s foreign language shortage for our economy. How do we get more people to learn another language? As it turns out, the common housecat  may hold the key.

Say what? According to research performed by a company called Memrise, people retain information better when it is presented in the form of cute cat pictures. As Memrise COO Ben Whately explained to the BBC:

“We wanted to know what kinds of visual mnemonics were most effective at helping people to learn fast. The pattern began to emerge that pictures of cats always featured disproportionately among the most effective.”

Now, you can channel your obsession with funny cat memes into something productive: learning another language. Read more

More UK Students Studying Spanish 

Spanish is set to overtake French as the most dominant foreign language studied in UK schools, according to the head of the AQA exam board.

Andrew Hall, AQA’s chief executive, made the prediction based on this year’s GCSE statistics, in which a record number of students sat for Spanish GCSEs, even as foreign language entries declined overall. Approximately 93,000 students took the Spanish exam this year, 2,000 more than last year. Meanwhile, the number of French entries declined from from 177,288 to 168,042 and the number of German entries declined from 62,932 to 59,891.

Why is Spanish making gains even as other languages fall? Some educators are calling it the “Messi effect,” crediting the popularity of Argentinian football player Lionel Messi, but that’s far from the whole story. 

As Andrew Hall told The Telegraph, learning Spanish is increasingly being seen as a smart career move for students:

“It is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. I went to factories in California where people had to have Spanish as a fluent second language. I think more and people are speaking Spanish. I think students recognise that it is a very important language to have.”

In The Independent, Pearson vice-president Lesley Davis referenced the “Messi effect,” but also underlined the importance of Spanish to UK businesses:

“We know it’s becoming an increasingly important language for business with our recent Pearson/CBI Skills Survey showing that half of employers want Spanish speakers. Young people are also more exposed now to Spanish culture from music to food to high-profile Spanish speaking personalities.”

Meanwhile, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told TESConnect that more students were choosing to “work smarter, not harder” by choosing Spanish, which is considered one of the easier foreign languages to learn:

“It’s very similar to our language in many ways,” he said. “It’s quite a straightforward structure. They find French more difficult, particularly because of the accent and so on. A lot of schools have found it’s a very popular subject.”

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by mikecogh

Learning Languages

UK Primary Schools Unprepared for Language Classes

Primary schools in England will struggle to provide quality language classes due to a lack of qualified teachers, according to the annual Languages Trends survey. As of September primary schools around the country will be required to teach language classes to seven to 11-year-olds.

“many primary classroom teachers have neither sufficient knowledge of another language nor sufficient confidence in their language skills to be able to teach a language to the level expected in the new national curriculum” Read more

Learn a Language In Your Sleep?

“Learn a language in your sleep!” It sounds like a scam, doesn’t it? However, according to researchers from the Swiss National Science Foundation, it just might work. Sort of.

The researchers played a series of Dutch vocabulary words to a group of 60 German-speaking volunteers. Half of the volunteers were then allowed to go to sleep, and while they slept, the researchers played the newly acquired Dutch words for them again. The other half were asked to stay awake, and they also got to hear the new Dutch words played again.  Then, the researchers woke the first group up and tested everyone to see how well they had retained the vocabulary.

You might expect the group that stayed awake to do better on the test, since they’d had the opportunity to hear the words repeated while they were actually conscious. In fact, the group that went to sleep remembered the vocabulary more accurately.

As Wired noted in its write up of the study, “[i]t is, of course, entirely reasonable to assume that sleep deprivation versus rest played a part in the results.” The vocabulary test took place at 2 AM, after all. 

However, the researchers also had the sleeping subjects hooked up to EEG machines to measure their brainwaves.  When the sleeping volunteers heard the Dutch words being played, they showed increased activity in parts of the brain that are associated with creating memories.

So, can you learn a new language in your sleep?

Not completely. Listening to a foreign language while you snooze falls under the category of “passive listening.” As Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months puts it:

“When you already understand the language, it’s different – but to learn the language? The problem with embracing a passive means of learning a language is that a language is active. It requires your attention to understand and your ability to produce to actually converse.”

Note that even in this study, the volunteers initially learned the new foreign vocabulary words actively, while they were awake. Hearing them in their sleep later may have helped reinforce what they had already learned while they were conscious, but without that conscious effort, your language learning dreams are doomed to remain just that…dreams!

Have you tried to learn a language (or anything else) in your sleep? Did it work? Tell us about it in the comments!

Music, Language and Your Brain

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” He was more right than he knew. New studies are showing that the brain does in fact treat music as a language. Read more

UK Economy Needs More Foreign Languages, Experts Say

It’s easy to advocate for the importance of foreign language learning in warm, fuzzy terms; for example,  it helps us connect with other people and it helps us understand people from different cultures. Foreign language learning does help us do these things, but a new report from The British Council reminds us that there is a another, more concrete reason to value foreign languages: money.

According to the report, the UK economy may take a hit in future years because there simply aren’t enough people speaking what the Council identified as the ten most important foreign languages: Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian and German. The report calls these languages “of crucial importance for the UK’s prosperity, security and influence in the world over the next 20 years,” but even the most commonly taught languages on the list are not commonly spoken by most UK adults. Read more

Language Learning Lessons From the Mormons

NPR has an interesting story up on language learning at the Mormon’s Missionary Training Center in Utah.  The Missionary Training Center equips young Mormons with the language skills to preach their version of the gospel to people overseas.

It does so incredibly quickly, with most students going from zero to at least conversational in just nine short weeks.

MTC student Kirsten Weiss told NPR:

“The five weeks that I’ve been at the MTC, I’ve seen people go from having zero experience with Mandarin — or even learning any language — to going where I was maybe about my third year of studying at a university. It’s very impressive.”

How do they do it? Here are four of the MTC’s language learning secrets:

1. “Speak Your Language. “

“Speak your language” is the “unofficial motto” at the Missionary Training Center.  Rather than simply doing vocabulary and grammar drills, students focus on using their chosen language in a variety of real world situations.

2.  Practice makes perfect.

MTC students spend 10 hours every day studying.   That’s a lot of practice!

According to commenter James Picht, who went through the program:

10 hours/week (including out of class study, for a serious student) at a university versus 10 hours/day at the MTC or another intensive program – it’s exposure to the language that really determines progress, and the MTC provides about the same exposure in 9 weeks that a serious student would get in 3 semesters at a university. Then add in the advantage that at the MTC, you haven’t had a chance to forget any of what you learned between semesters and that you’re going straight from there to the country where you’ll speak the language, and it’s unsurprising that motivated missionaries will be doing very well in relatively short order.

3.  Don’t expect immediate perfection.

According to some of the commenters on the article, students usually don’t leave MTC fully fluent in another language. In fact, sometimes they are barely conversational.  However, they have a foundation they can build on, and most become  fluent after six months in a foreign country.

4. Stay motivated.

Staying motivated is key. For the farm boy in those old Rosetta Stone ads, it was his love for an Italian supermodel. For students at the MTC, the motivation is spiritual, with one telling NPR

“”Everything we do is trying to learn by and with the Spirit, so that’s really the only way you can … stand it here.”

Decide what your motivation is to learn the language, and remind yourself of it whenever you get discouraged.

Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language quickly? Share your experience in the comments!

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by katherinejarmstrong

Learn a Language

The Top Languages to Learn in 2017

Fancy learning a new language this year? As one of the UK’s leading translation service providers, we’re in just the right place to give some tips on the most useful ones to pick. Whether you’re still a student or you’re just looking for a way to improve your career outlook, we’ve selected the top languages to learn in 2017.

1. Mandarin

Guanhua

The official language of China, Mandarin is already the most widely spoken language in the world. Per Wikipedia, 955 million people, 14.4% of the world’s population, claim it as their native tongue.  The demand for Mandarin speakers will only grow in the years to come, as China nudges the United States out of the top spot as the nation with the world’s largest GDP. Mandarin is also the second most popular language online. In a 2013 report, the British Council ranked it as one of the top 10 most important languages for the future of the UK.

For these reasons, Mandarin is definitely one of the top languages to learn in 2017.

Read more