Dear Annie: I love learning languages. I grew up with immigrant parents who spoke their native language to me, and I studied another language in high school. I’m also a native English speaker. I wouldn’t say I’m trilingual, but I can get by in those two languages I’ve learned aside from English.
The thing is that learning those languages was easier than it is to learn languages now that I’m out of school. I learned my parents’ language as a child, when the human brain’s plasticity is at its maximum and learning new languages is easiest. And the other language I learned while in school; I essentially didn’t have a choice but to show up to class and learn the language.
Now learning a new language requires self-discipline. No outside force is going to help me learn another language. I’m not sure I have the discipline, but I really would like to learn another language or two. Any tips? – Lazy Linguist
Dear Lazy Linguist: School is always in session on the internet. And in many cases, tuition is free. Check out the website Duolingo, and visit your local library to see whether it has a Rosetta Stone subscription. Software solutions aside, one of the best ways to practice and learn a new language is simply to speak with people in it. Once you’ve gotten on track learning the basics of a new language, check out Meetup to find a group in your area that speaks in that language.
It’s wise of you to take such an interest in learning new languages, as it can be a big boost to your brain. Researchers at Penn State University found that bilingual people are better at multitasking, and researchers at the University of Chicago found that bilingual people tend to make better, more rational decisions when speaking in their nonnative tongue, presumably because they’re forced to think in a more deliberate way. Though you’re already nearly trilingual, it stands to reason that you could reap more of these benefits with each new language you learn. And though it might be more challenging to pick up a new language as an adult than as a child, it’s by no means impossible. See the article titled “A critical period for second language acquisition,” published last year in the journal Cognition, if you’d like to read more about that.
Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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