By Laura Muncie
Learning a new language is possible at any age and studies show it can delay the onset of 3 types of Dementia by as much as 4-5 years. A special week long Gaelic course with pensioners on the Isle of Skye, showed better mental function of participants,compared with pensioners who did not do the course.
- Research participation with Bilingualism Matters
- A Secret Weapon in Dementia Prevention: The Bilingual Advantage
But many of us believe we can’t learn a second language, have no reason to, or think that it is better to learn when young. Children have heightened brain neuroplasticity which means their brain is flexible this allows rapid learning. But adults can learn easily with repetition, focus on short learning times, and a mixed learning method.
If you are an adult who would like to help protect your brain health, or want to support your child with homework, here are some language learning strategies I have found:
TipToi children’s language books combine audio and visual learning with reader interaction.
The books have an electronic pen that plays audio when you tap on the pictures. The pen helps hold your attention on the image being spoken about. A bit like when you read to your child pointing to what you are reading about.
The books have a symbol key. With this key you can play music to accompany the picture, hear a word again, or play a game. The game might ask you to tap on the blackbirds, or look for 4 streetlamps whilst beating a timer, there is even a version of eye spy. It’s fun and you are learning alongside your child. The audio gives you the desired pronunciation, something that can make parents hesitant about reading out loud in another language.
To get the most out of learning use it often, repetition helps commit the new words to memory. Simple book themes are good. This book is about the seasons.
It is also nice to have books that use technology. I found my son was interested because the pen allowed him to direct the learning, making the experience more child centred, rather than me reading and him listening.
If you have Netflix, Amazon Prime, or access to YouTube you can watch cartoons in your target foreign language. Favourites like Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol & Fireman Sam have multiple language options.
Before an episode pick a few common objects that are part of the storyline e.g. ball, car, George’s dinosaur, Museum, swing. Google translate the chosen words into the target language and pause the video when the objects are seen. Ask your child ‘what is that?’ and when they answer say the word in the target language instead, then have them repeat. Follow this up by watching the cartoon uninterrupted. A few translated words up your sleeve helps anchor you both into the dialogue.
Cartoons also help adults learning from scratch because the themes are simple. If you are a parent or grandparent it’s likely you already know some storylines from the English version. Many parents can sing the Paw Patrol or Fireman Sam theme tune by heart. Hear it in another language and you’ll be able to sing it in that too!
Connect the real world to the language
When out and about you can bring your new words alive by pointing them out in the world around you.
Have you noticed that after a few times hearing a song you know the words? Radio stations play hit songs over and over, you hear them again in shops, in your car and soon that tune sticks with you, sometimes to our annoyance! But you can use passive repetitive learning to learn a language. A CD of children’s songs as background music driving to and from school works, or if fluent already you could play CD’s with easy listening music to refresh your knowledge. Don’t get despondent if you don’t understand all the lyrics, music often contains complex emotions, situations and street slang. If you wish to learn Gaelic there are radio channels that will help you access the language.
If you’re fortunate enough to holiday abroad, play the local radio in your hotel room or rental car.
An app called Earworms musical brain trainer was recommended to me by a friend who speaks multiple languages. This app is meant to be played in the background and uses the musical repetition method. I found it effective in getting basic conversational phrases fixed in my memory.
Supporting younger teens
I appreciate getting teens interested in foreign languages can be a challenge. Getting them to forgo time on their iPad, or PlayStation to do homework is difficult in itself. But there are language apps such as Duo Lingo, which can be downloaded to an electronic device.
If you can identify what type of learner your child is that helps e.g.visual, auditory, or learn through doing?
There are online tools that can help you discover what type of learner you are. Learning Styles
If your child has a special interest such as football, things like magazines and football player cards in the target language can help. Football Cards Direct
Learning a language can be less accessible to those without disposable income to buy products or pay a tutor. But you can still learn without paying large sums.Finding a tandem learning partner is a solution that avoids paying a tutor. Your circle of friends may have a native speaker, or know someone if you want to learn Gaelic or another language.
I have utilised tandem learning and with my partner we speak 1 hour in English for their practice, and 1 hour in German for my practice. I take old magazines or junk mail with everyday supermarket items on offer from Lidl to our sessions, clothing catalogues are also good. All this helps bring the real world and the foreign language closer together.
If you decide to try something new don’t feel defeated early on. There is a belief that other countries are better at learning languages because it seems effortless to them. I was amazed watching 6 year old German children on the bus sing Kesha’s ‘Tick Tock’ in English. But it is simply not true that other nations are better at languages. The non-English native speaker has an advantage you don’t- English is everywhere via popular culture. The only difference between you and them is regular exposure to English. Those young children singing Kesha, though unlikely to understand the lyrics, still gained exposure to vocabulary, word order and pronunciation that help later in the formal classroom setting.
A new language takes years to mature fully,and there is no substitute for living in the country and learning from native speakers. But it is possible for foreign to become familiar outside the classroom setting, by using resources you already have.