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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 2018

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 2018.

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.  According to Bloomberg, as of November 06, 2017 the Chinese economy is projected to overtake the United States economy in 2028.

Meanwhile,  China is busy constructing a “New Silk Road” to connect the Chinese mainland with Europe, the rest of Asia, and emerging markets in Africa. 

Mandarin is also the second most popular language online. And according to Statista, while the US will probably remain the largest economy overall for a few years yet, by the end of 2018 China will be the largest digital economy in the world. 

When you look at the facts, it’s easy to see why the British Council ranked Mandarin as one of the most important languages for the future of the UK.  If you’re learning a new language this year and you’re up for a challenge, Mandarin is definitely one of the top languages to learn.

Want to learn more about the languages of China? See our beginner’s guide to Chinese translation services!

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A Language Learning Pill?

Does learning a language while you sleep sound like too much work? One scientist is predicting that some time within the next 30 years, all you’ll have to do is take a pill to become instantly fluent.

Nicholas Negroponte, an architect and futurist who founded MIT’s Media Lab, made the prediction in a TED Talk released in July. Negroponte is the founder of the One Laptop Per Child program, which provides children in developing countries access to inexpensive laptop computers. He is famous for having predicted a host of technologies that we now take for granted, like WiFi and the touchscreen.

As quoted in the Daily Mail, here’s how Negroponte sees the future of language learning (and literature classes):

‘You’re going to swallow a pill and know English. You’re going to swallow a pill and know Shakespeare.’

‘And the way to do it is through the bloodstream. So once it’s [the information in the pill] in your bloodstream, it basically goes through and gets into the brain…and the different pieces get deposited in the right places.’

That seems like it would be a difficult feat to accomplish. Learning a language is about more than just memorizing vocabulary lists and verb conjugations, after all.  Speaking a second language alters your brain in a number of different ways, such as helping to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and helping toddlers to better focus their attention. Would learning a language from a pill have the same effects?

So far, the closest thing we have to a language learning pill is a drug called valproic acid. It’s a mood-stabilizing drug that has shown promise in making it possible for adults to learn to have perfect pitch, a skill that is usually impossible to learn after a certain age. So, in theory it could make it easier for adults to pick up another language if they do the work to learn it, just as infants and toddlers have an easier time learning multiple languages.  

Also, as a former English Lit major, I have to say that I find the idea of taking a pill and “knowing Shakespeare” almost offensive. It’s like reading the Cliffs Notes-you might understand the plot but you haven’t experienced the art.

Do you think language learning in pill form will be possible one day? Let us know in the comments!

Photo credits: Attribution Some rights reserved by Rod Senna

Learn a Foreign Language, Get Rich Slowly

Students struggling with foreign language classes often ask themselves, what’s the point? What’s the point in learning a foreign language, when so many people and companies are willing to cater to you in English?

How does an extra $67,000 sound as an incentive? That’s the amount The Economist determined an average American college graduate fluent in a foreign language could expect to earn over their working life. This was calculated based on research carried out by MIT economist Albert Saiz.

Of course, the actual amount you could expect to gain from your foreign language proficiency depends on factors like what language you learn and what career field you are in.

Per the Economist:

“Albert Saiz, the MIT economist who calculated the 2% premium, found quite different premiums for different languages: just 1.5% for Spanish, 2.3% for French and 3.8% for German. This translates into big differences in the language account: your Spanish is worth $51,000, but French, $77,000, and German, $128,000.”

That’s all well and good if you’re American, but what about in the UK? Here, the difference is even more significant. In 2004, the Michel Thomas Language Centre found that foreign language fluency could increase your income by  £3,000 a year, or £145,000 in a lifetime.  That’s not surprising, considering the UK’s proximity to other, non-English speaking countries.

As an additional bonus, the Michel Thomas Language Centre study also found that learning a second language can increase your popularity with potential romantic partners.

Is this extra earning power likely to decline in the era of Google Translate? Probably not anytime soon. Machine translation is still an imperfect beast. Meanwhile, globalization increases the need for businesses to be able to communicate in other languages. The Economist sums it up well:

One optimistic estimate is that half the world’s people might speak English by 2050. That leaves billions who will not, and billions of others who remain happier (and more willing to spend money) in their own language.

Photo Credit:  Some rights reserved by epSos.de