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To Learn a Foreign Language, Listen

If you’re struggling with learning a new language, try listening to native speakers. That’s the conclusion of a new study from Victoria University in New Zealand.

According to the Daily Mail, researchers have discovered that listening to people talk or sing in a foreign language makes learning that language easier, even if you haven’t the foggiest idea what they are saying.

How is this possible? When babies start learning language, their brains develop neural structures that allow them to understand and process the different combinations of sounds in their native language. However, when you learn a new language, you are often confronted with combinations of sounds that you’ve never encountered before. It can be difficult to learn and remember words in a foreign language because your brain doesn’t have the appropriate neural structures to do so.

The good news is that over time, simply hearing a new language spoken will cause your brain to grow new neural tissue to process the new combinations of sound, just as a baby does when learning its first language. As your brain becomes more attuned to the sounds of the new language, it will become easier for you to speak and understand it.

Dr. Paul Sulzberger, the author of the study, summed the results up nicely when he told the Daily Mail, “To learn a language you have to grow the appropriate brain tissue, and you do this by lots of listening – songs and movies are great.”

Often, foreign language students wait until they can actually understand the spoken language to start watching television or listening to music in that language. This study suggests that is the wrong approach to take.

If you’re learning a new language, try to find music, movies and television that feature people speaking in that language. Listen to the music on your MP3 player or watch a TV show while you eat dinner. If you keep listening to native speakers and try to learn the language, it won’t be long before what you’re hearing starts to make sense!

Young Interpreters

Today teachers in Britain have to cope with young children who have very little or no grasp of the English language. It is understandably difficult for the children who often misbehave due to the language barriers they face.

A school in Devon may have the answer. They have encouraged a small group of their students, many of whom came to England from foreign countries, to act as interpreters helping the new students to fit in.

Students in the group like Newsround Press Packer Angela have learnt basic language skills to help those with limited English in their class. Using a range of tools like picture cards, hand gestures and a basic language prompt sheets they are able to help the new student to fit in, learn English and therefore help improve their overall education.

It is so nice to read about young people being positive about language and helping each other to learn new skills, developing those skills for the future.

Learning languages in the United Kingdom is no longer very popular. Perhaps this is because to learn to read, write and speak a new language is very difficult and everyone speaks English so why should they bother. The latter is a common misconception believed by many adults and children.

The key to getting kids into languages seems to be to start teaching them at a young age, right when they begin learning in their first year at school. After all our first 3-4 years at school are probably the most progressive after that we are building on knowledge we already have. Children learn so quickly at that age reading, writing, basic maths and science skills why not teach them basic language skills as well.

With advances in technology most schools are now equipped with computers which could also be used to aid learning. In previous years children were often encouraged to write to a foreign pen pal. With access to the internet children could now talk to students in a foreign country via a web cam. Multimedia tools make the experience of learning a language much more fun.

Let them try out different languages, they might find one more interesting or fun to learn, which may retain their attention into adult life. Learning a language could make them stand out from the crowd when they start working.

In today’s multicultural business environment the ability to speak a foreign language is a huge advantage. It would be great to see more schools across the United Kingdom using students to help foreigners learn English developing each child for the better.

Can Computers Help Preserve Indigenous Languages?

According to the BBC, nearly half of the world’s 6,500 languages are expected to disappear over the next 100 years. Languages die when people stop speaking them and stop teaching them to their children. This has happened all over the world, with one of many examples being the fate of Native American languages after Europeans began to settle the continent.

Native Americans were confined to reservations, and Native American children were taken from the parents and sent to boarding schools, where instructors would punish them for speaking their native languages.

However, many Native American tribes are now making efforts to revitalise their languages through language learning and immersion programs in schools. One Native American couple, Mary Hermes and Kevin Roach, founded a non-profit organisation called Grassroots Educational Multimedia to provide people with tools to learn Native American languages.

The organisation teamed up with a company called Transparent Language to create language learning software for the Ojibwe language. The software allows Ojibwe students to create flashcards and watch videos of native speakers conversing in Ojibwe.

Another benefit of this software is that it has helped to document the vocabulary and grammar of the Ojibwe language. Before this project, the language’s grammatical structure was poorly documented.

So, with this software, GEM and Transparent Language have created a portable system people can use to learn Ojibwe at home, created a record of native speakers’ conversations, and created a map of Ojibwe grammar.

Even better, this approach provides a way to circumvent the emotional issues involved in trying to revive a dying language. As the Earth Times notes,

‘The history of the near genocide of the indigenous people of North America and the repression of their cultures and languages has meant that many emotions can get stirred up when indigenous people try to learn their own languages. They may encounter feelings of shame that they don’t know their indigenous language, feelings of anger at the trauma their people have endured, and feelings of embarrassment when they attempt to speak their language with the vocabulary of a two year old. Tribal elders who are fluent in the indigenous language may feel too jaded or just be too few in number to offer enough assistance. Often the indigenous language learner hits a place of cultural loss and insecurity that they have great difficulty overcoming.’ –Earth Times

Practicing at home, at a computer, gives language learners a chance to overcome these issues privately, and means that elders who grew up speaking the language can more easily pass it on. Also, this software gives students learning the language at school a fun way to practice outside of class.

Hopefully, this approach will help linguists document endangered languages and help language activists teach them, at least in places where computers are readily available.

Language Learning Company Connects Students with Native Speakers

Fluency in a foreign language is an excellent, useful skill to have. Unfortunately, many teenagers see language learning as just another chore, especially if they are having difficulty grasping the concepts.

Studies have shown that listening to native speakers makes it easier for your brain to pick up a new language. However, it’s hard to get interested in a TV show when you don’t understand what’s going on.

Human interaction is one of the best ways to create interest in learning another language. After all, if you’re just learning the language to pass a test, or satisfy a school requirement, it’s easy to get bored with it. If you’re actually trying to use it to communicate with another person, learning a second language becomes much more satisfying.
Enter Learnosity, a company that produces language learning software.

The Journal reports that Learnosity is partnering with Voxbone, a company that provides toll-free numbers for international calls, to connect students from different countries.

Currently, students can call a Voxbone number and become part of a conference call with other students to practice speaking the language they are studying. Learnosity then provides teachers with an interface that tracks who is saying what and allows each student to be graded individually.

One of Learnosity’s goals, however, is to expand the concept so that students can call native speakers of the language they are studying and talk to them directly.

The idea is that students could use their own cell phones or phones provided by the school to call students in a different country and practice speaking the language. Each student would get a chance to practice speaking the other student’s language. Since Learnosity is partnering with Voxbone, the calls would be billed as local calls instead international long distance.

Learnosity’s CEO, Gavin Cooney, explained the value of the program to The Journal, saying “We can’t provide every student in a country with a laptop, broadband connection and headsets, but we can easily put a phone in the hands of every student. In fact, they already have one in most cases. Also, there is no learning curve for the student. And teachers don’t have to book computer facilities within the school; they just ask the students to take out their phones and dial in. This removes a significant barrier to entry.”
Of course, for this to work in countries like the US, schools would have to start allowing cell phones in class or provide special pre-paid phones specifically for these calls. Still, most teenagers love to talk on the phone, and this program would probably make language classes a little bit more exciting for the students involved.

Top 5 Careers For Language Lovers

Since the dawn of time language has been fundamental to the way we interact with one another. When cultures expanded and populations grew, foreign languages were born out of a necessity for local, centralised communication. As time passed and humans became more abundant and advanced, so too did languages. While some languages have died and some are yet to be born, the demand for foreign language skills is only expanding in the modern era.

When contemplating foreign language related careers, the first choices we think of are most likely that of a translator, interpreter, foreign language teacher or even CEO of a Language Services Company :), but these jobs only scratch the surface of what you can achieve. Of course any one of these professions is a great option for a language lover, but what if you wanted to cultivate your passion for language doing something a bit more unique or intriguing?

These days talented linguists are not limited to such narrow career paths, and they often have interests beyond just learning, teaching and speaking new languages. Studying languages is known to develop core competencies that appeal to almost every type of professional field giving linguaphiles a plethora of valuable career opportunities that they may have never thought of. Read more

Removal of Language Learning Requirements for Teenagers

In England, concern has been growing that the country’s students are falling behind when it comes to learning other languages.

In 2004, England stopped requiring that students over the age of 14 take classes in a foreign language. Since then, the percentage of students that have chosen to take foreign language classes has continued to drop. For example, according to the BBC, the number of students taking French GCSE has fallen 30% in the past 4 years.

Most of the other countries in the European Union require secondary school students to continue taking foreign language courses, so there is a concern that England will be at a competitive disadvantage in today’s global economy.

There are several advantages to becoming fluent in another language. First, it can make you more employable, especially as more and more companies start to do business internationally. Second, learning a foreign language can improve your speaking and writing skills in English.

For example, an American study completed in 1992 by the College Entrance Examination Board found that students who had studied a foreign language for 4 or more years scored higher on the verbal section of the SAT than students who had not. Other studies have shown that learning a foreign language boosts creativity and math skills as well.

With language learning becoming increasingly important, why did England choose to drop the language learning requirement for children over the age of 14?

According to the BBC, the change was made as part of a package of curriculum reform with the intention of reducing truancy among secondary school students. England’s government began pushing hard to reduce truancy in the early part of this decade, even going so far as to put parents in jail when their teenage children consistently skipped school.

The thought was that kids who didn’t want to be in school anyway would probably be more interested in vocational courses than in learning a foreign language, so the requirement was dropped.

Starting in 2011, language learning classes will be required for primary school students instead. Hopefully, children who start learning languages early will feel more inclined to keep studying them as they get older.

Ojibwe Language Into Modern Day

The Ojibwe language is the fourth most common Native American language spoken in North America, with a total of approximately 56.531 speakers in the US and Canada. Even so, like most native languages, it is in some danger of dying out as most of the speakers are elderly.

However, steps are being taken to preserve the language. One effort, which is being led by University of Minnesota Duluth education professor Mary Hermes, involves creating a series of videos showing Ojibwe being used in casual, everyday situations, as it will have to be spoken if it is to survive and thrive in the future. Read more