Archive for the ‘Language acquisition’ Category

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Sleep and Study

Posted on February 25th, 2014by Melanie
In Education, Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

Did you go to bed with headphones on the night before an important test or exam when you were at school, listening to the revision notes over and over again? Or did you listen to a recording of your speech as you drifted off to sleep the night before an important presentation at work? It may have seemed a desperate attempt to get the knowledge to stay in your head at the time, but the notion of sleep aiding learning is actually true.

HeadphonesStudies showed that participants who had had a short sleep during the day were able to recall information more easily, and to a greater extent if the nap was taken nearer to the time of learning. A good night’s sleep before a day of testing also gives improved results showing that we subconsciously learn while we’re asleep and can transform this into usable knowledge during the day. But how is this possible?

Everything we’ve learned during the day is reinforced as we sleep due to the fact that the brain stays active. Even a quick snooze after learning something can result in a higher recollection of what we’ve just learned. Therefore, it’s not necessarily the amount of sleep we have, but the fact that we are able to have some sleep which gives our brain a chance to process the information.

file0001988663950So sleep equals enhanced learning. But how does that help you with your language lessons? Don’t worry, you haven’t got to download all of your lessons and listen to them while you’re trying to drift off to sleep, and you don’t need to recite the verbs and tenses repeatedly until you fall asleep. It is a good idea, however, to do some revision not long before you go to sleep, as you’re more likely to remember it in more detail when you wake up. And if you feel like you’re having a brain overload after one of your lessons, try a power nap to help lock the information in your mind.

Do you find that things seem clearer after you’ve had some sleep? Why not see for yourself if the theory works by testing yourself to see how much you can recall from your language lessons both before and after periods of sleep.

Language as a Fashion Accessory?

Posted on January 28th, 2014by Melanie
In Events, Language acquisition, Speech | Leave a Comment »

More and more nowadays people are stressing the importance of learning languages in order to benefit us socially and within business, to strengthen our country’s position within the global economy and to break down the communication barriers worldwide.

Aside from jobs within the banking industry dealing with international clients or linguistic careers, such as translators, what other careers can realistically benefit from a knowledge of languages? Sports personalities are increasingly stepping up to extol the virtues of having more than one language under their belt. Sporting events involve travelling to other countries so what better way to fully understand what’s happening around you in your working environment than by studying the relevant languages?

Photo by Peter Duhon

Photo by Peter Duhon

Another, more glamorous, career can await you in the field of fashion if you choose to study another language. Lately, the fashion industry has been hyping up the benefits of learning foreign languages in order to further your career within the industry. English is still the lingua franca of the fashion world so is learning other languages merely a fad? Are foreign languages a new fashion statement deemed necessary at the time but one that will soon change just as the styles change over the seasons? Although English is widely spoken amongst the fashion community, it is deemed more ‘polite’ to speak the language of the people you are dealing with.

The British Fashion Council has advocated the benefits of learning foreign languages as a way to promote UK based brands and designers worldwide. By focusing on languages, they believe that Britain’s standing within the fashion world will increase. Overseas supply chains mean that intra-company communication is vital whether it entails sales, stock, marketing or accounting. Take the company New Look, for example. The UK’s favourite high street shop is currently looking to expand its position within the European market as well as broaching the subject of launching in China. Speaking to collaborators in English alone will eventually get the job done, but speaking in the languages of the host countries will ensure a much quicker and more fluid transition. Conversely, the high street shops of H&M and Zara originate from abroad but are the second and third favourites for the UK.

Designers, PR representatives and administrators have stated that having a knowledge of foreign languages has given them flexibility within the fashion industry, making their jobs easier and themselves more adaptable to requirements. Many international brands actually look for language skills when they are recruiting and offer training to staff who are not fluent in the particular language required.

The fashion industry goes hand-in-hand with the media so being able to converse with photographers, journalists, editors, events’ hosts, designers and outlet owners is essential. Building relationships in any aspect of the fashion world is vital if you want to forward your career. As with all careers, working in fashion is competitive, so for those who want the edge over their competitors then learning foreign languages will ensure they stand out and have increased accessibility to opportunities.

So a foreign language is a fashion accessory you can’t do without! Get ahead with the latest language trends to make sure you stand out from the crowd!

Fast Exchanges with Foreign Strangers

Posted on December 8th, 2013by Melanie
In Events, Language acquisition, Speech | Leave a Comment »

You’ve heard of speed dating, but what about speed speaking? ‘Language exchanges’ as they’re known, are the plutonic equivalent of speed dating when you get to hone your language skills. You find an event, you sit at a table, you talk to a complete stranger in their language for a few minutes then they talk to you in your language for the remaining few minutes, then…move sideways for your next quick conversation.

Everyone always says that the best way to really learn a language is to speak it but, outside of a classroom where you feel comfortable, confident and know what the subject matter is about, it’s not so easy. Not unless you are lucky enough to be able to jet off randomly to practise your skills abroad. Many of us are really shy when it comes to speaking foreign languages, for fear of getting it wrong and being ridiculed. And if you don’t have foreign friends or colleagues who you can ask for help, how are you supposed to practise?

Language ‘Blind Dates’

Language exchanges have become very popular in the UK. With so many people now visiting and staying in the UK, there is no shortage of foreigners wishing to hone their English languages skills. So in the same way, they will be happy to help you hone your language skills. Just like the classified ‘partner’ ads, you´ll find many advertising for conversation exchanges, usually arranging to meet in bars or cafés. Like a blind date of sorts, except that the only awkwardness is about how well you are, or are not, speaking their language. It may seem strange at first and you may only meet some people once, but an hour of conversation with a native speaker of the language you’re learning will boost your skills as well as your confidence more than you can imagine. If you’re lucky enough, you might meet a language partner who wants to meet up for regular conversation exchanges. An hour a week speaking with the same person means you’ll be able to progress much faster as you can cover new ground each time, and shyness won’t be an issue.

Conversation Exchange Events

Does an hour of speaking with a complete stranger in a foreign language seem too daunting? Check the newspapers and Internet websites for information about conversation language events. These events will specify the languages to be spoken, where and when the event is being held, the cost for attending and the time frame for each language exchange. Far from the conversation exchanges just mentioned, these events place an emphasis on being fast and being fun. With the drinks flowing, you get just a few minutes to speak to your partner in their language to practise your skills, and then it’s time for them to practise their English for a few minutes while they speak to you. With no time for shyness or awkward silences, it’s time to move on and you’re suddenly sitting opposite a new partner where your few minutes start again. Lively and fun, these events are a great way to get talking in your favourite foreign language!

Have you tried a conversation exchange? Was it a private meeting or an arranged event, and did you find it beneficial for practising your language skills? How did the conversation exchange help you to progress in your language lessons?

Train Your Brain to Talk

Posted on November 17th, 2013by Melanie
In Language acquisition, Speech, Words | Leave a Comment »

HeadphonesYou want to learn a new language but the thought of sitting in a classroom with your nose buried in a textbook or having to do embarrassing role plays is not really inviting you to book your first lesson. What about all of the adverts that promise you can learn a language in a matter of weeks, that anyone can learn and not just the linguistically gifted? Do those statements ever actually come true?

Whilst it used to be considered you either had a knack for languages or you didn’t, that you innately inherited your linguistic skills, and that it was a disability not to be able to learn foreign languages, we now know otherwise. Thanks to a multitude of researchers over the years, it has been proven that, yes, anyone can learn a new language; really. Far from being the stupidity of struggling students, the inability to learn a language is actually due to the learning strategies used. So, now you know you can definitely learn a language, that’s a start. But how long will it take? Those timeframe guarantees look very appealing.  Those ever helpful researchers can put your mind at ease again because, yes, you really can learn a new language in that short space of time.  Just pick the right language and right learning technique.

Choose the right language: by choosing a language similar in construction to your own, it has been found to speed up the learning process due to its familiarity. For example, English speakers will find it easier to learn Spanish than Mandarin.

Immerse yourself in the language: put the textbooks to one side and just start speaking the language from day one. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand everything, just become used to the way the language sounds and you’ll soon pick up words and phrases.

Use the ‘shadowing technique’: while you’re listening to the language, simultaneously speak it out loud and read it too. The reason behind this is to slow down your thought process and pay more attention to the details.

You’ve got the know-how, now just kick-start your brain into gear and train it to follow these easy rules. All of those researchers can’t be wrong, so stop doubting yourself and start speaking a new language in no time at all.

Universally Speaking

Posted on November 9th, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Language acquisition, Speech | Leave a Comment »

Universally SpeakingThere have been many discussions and lots of speculation about the possibility of a universal language. Globalization has broadened our horizons while at the same time making the world seem a lot smaller. With the need for improved and increased communication between countries, the trend for learning languages has grown considerably. So much so, that the subject of creating a universal language has become a hot topic. But what exactly would this mean?

The Pros and Cons

Well for a start, it would simplify communications between countries. There would be no more language barriers and therefore nothing to stop progress being made in any situation. A universal language would eliminate any translation errors, saving a lot of time, money and embarrassment. But with each of these languages comes a unique culture, and discontinuing the use of these in favour of a new uniform language will destroy those cultures and what makes each country special and diverse in its own right. We´ll no longer have such a sense of national pride, and a feeling of conformity for more than just our language may arise.

It’s still too early to see which side of the debate will win with this question, but the pros and cons for each are considerable ones. In the meantime, we are free to study and speak the languages we love for our own reasons and, in the immediate future at least, the boom in language learning will continue to increase. What are your views on speaking a universal language, and what pros and cons can you think of for having one?


Does Low Income Affect Language Learning Abilities?

Posted on October 30th, 2013by Melanie
In Education, English, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Low income learningStudies have been conducted which prove the correlation between wealth and the ability for word comprehension in very young children, but how does that translate into adulthood? Do those who have been brought up in low income households find it harder to learn foreign languages than those who have grown up with wealthier families?

It’s certainly true that by school age, those who have been raised in low income families have a lower reading ability than their peers and can struggle from the outset. Their social background has not allowed them to reach their full potential for their age group leading to an increased risk of lack of cognitive and educational development.

Nowadays, however, educational institutions recognize these social situations and are able to ensure that pupils are taught accordingly. Teaching techniques and resources are such that pupils from any background are able to learn effectively and will quickly progress to reach their full potential.

A high percentage of low income families in the UK actually speak English as their second language, whilst speaking their native language at home and in their community. In this respect, many children are already familiar with the concept of learning foreign languages and, whilst they may need to apply themselves more than their peers to other academic subjects, they already have the capabilities of being able to grasp foreign languages. Bearing this in mind, for those particular pupils, learning foreign languages as an adult should not pose any issues.

Globalization, interactive social media and innovative teaching techniques with a focus on learning foreign languages means that adults, regardless of their background, educational level, or linguistic capability are more than able to learn foreign languages easily. What languages have you learned and do you think your background positively or negatively affected your ability to learn them?

Speaking Diplomatically

Posted on October 20th, 2013by Melanie
In Education, Language acquisition, Speech | Leave a Comment »

Language CentreIt’s not just children or pupils in higher education who have the importance of learning foreign languages emphasized upon them. Many career opportunities are available now to those who speak more than one language and even those who have held good positions within their workplace for a long time are now under pressure to learn a new language.

Intensive Lessons for Diplomats

Diplomats are now undergoing intensive language lessons in the Foreign Office’s new language centre. Originally closed by the Labour government in 2007 to save costs by outsourcing to language trainers, the new centre – which teaches up to 80 languages – was re-opened by Foreign Secretary William Hague last month. The aim of the Foreign Office is to increase the number of diplomats in positions abroad who can conduct their business in the language of that particular country. The main focus is on Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian and German, with the intention of strengthening diplomatic ties with Latin America, China and the Middle East.

The Language Centre

The new centre will enable diplomats, as well as staff from other government offices, to study languages in intensive one-to-one sessions. Regardless of any previous knowledge of foreign languages, the teaching techniques used and modern facilities available in the comfortable surroundings make it possible for anyone to study any language to a very high standard. Some languages, such as Mandarin, entail learning the language for 22 months with 4 hours of study each day, before the diplomats are ready to take on their ‘operational’ role overseas in which they are expected to be able to hold press conferences in that language. As diplomats are taking on the challenge, 50 new speaking jobs have been created in UK embassies and high commissions, increasing diplomatic relations with other countries.

Have you needed to learn a foreign language for your career or would you consider learning a new language to take your career in a new direction?

Sporting a New Language

Posted on October 18th, 2013by Melanie
In Education, Language acquisition, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Gary LinekerSporting personality, Gary Lineker, has been promoting the benefits of learning foreign languages. Having learned Spanish after he was assigned to play football for Barcelona FC in 1986, he understands only too well the importance that foreign languages have in people’s lives.

Last month was the European Day of Languages and, in celebration of this, 11 schools in England and Scotland were given the opportunity to improve their linguistic capabilities by being awarded new language training resources. Keen to get involved, Gary Lineker visited one of these secondary schools to interact with the kids and to take part in the discussions there which were based on the necessity for increased language learning in schools.

Most schools across the UK are multinational, with many pupils speaking different languages at home, so why not promote language learning in schools? Technology makes learning more fun and interesting for kids, and schools have many technological resources at their fingertips that their pupils can take advantage of. The new language software awarded to the schools will give the pupils the ability to study using devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Other sports personalities are also quick to highlight the benefits of being able to speak foreign languages. Olympic medalist, Tom Daly, studied Spanish to A-level and is able to conduct interviews in Spanish, just as Chris Froome conducts interviews for the Tour de France in French. Paula Radcliffe, the world marathon record holder, finds her fluency in French and German very useful for international events. Ellen MacArthur used her knowledge of French to help gain sponsorship for her round-the-world sailing trip. Having role models like these is a great way for pupils to be inspired to learn new languages and to understand the importance of languages for their futures.

Who or what inspired you to learn a language and how has it helped you in your career or lifestyle?

Speak Up For Your Future!

Posted on October 9th, 2013by Melanie
In Language acquisition, Speech, Words | Leave a Comment »

Speak to the FutureWell it seems that 1,000 is the standard number of words we’d need to learn of a foreign language in order to be able to hold a conversation in it. More and more language companies appear to be recommending this level of competency in a foreign language but one organization, Speak to the Future, is taking this a step further.

Backed by the British Council, Speak to the Future is on a mission to get Britain talking, albeit in foreign languages. Believing the Brits to be ‘lazy linguists’, the organization feels that using the excuse that English is the most widely spoken language in the world is not good enough in these times of global connectivity.

Believing 1,000 words to be easily achievable by everyone, no matter what their age or how linguistically skilled they are, Speak to the Future has launched a campaign to promote this challenge. They’re not expecting fluency, just the ability to have a simple conversation. With the support of over 30 organizations, their belief is that by learning foreign languages we can

  • better understand other cultures
  • we can increase the level of education within the UK
  • people will have more opportunities within the employment sector as well    as  socially
  • contact with international networks will create innovation and enterprise
  • we will benefit by having a greater pool of highly qualified linguists within the UK
  • and that we need to act now to increase our standing in globalization.

Have you taken up the challenge? Join in with the campaign and speak up for your future by learning 1,000 words of a foreign language. You might be surprised at the opportunities that suddenly become available to you.

Be Fluent in Less Than a Day!

Posted on October 6th, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Indigenous languages, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

LingalaFrom a trip to the Congo to study chimpanzees for the National Geographic to a conversation with a pygmy, Joshua Foer is now able to converse in Lingala, the lingua franca of the Congo basin, which he learned in just 22 hours. So how did that happen?

During his trip, Joshua stayed with a local tribe, the Mbendjele pygmies, and got to know them with the help of a translator. On his return home, he decided to take a new direction with his career and vowed to visit the tribe again but this time to stay with them and immerse himself completely in their lifestyle and culture. This meant learning the language universally spoken across northern Congo – Lingala – albeit not the first language of the pygmies.

With only a 1963 edition of the US Foreign Service Institute handbook and a scanned copy of the Lingala-English dictionary which consisted on 1,109 words, Joshua used a learning technique to get to grips with the language. Using a combination of mnemonics and an app resembling the fun of online gaming, Joshua was able to learn the 1,000 most common words of Lingala. Over the course of 10 weeks, the total time spent on learning added up to just 22 hours and 15 minutes, with 20 minutes being the longest period he’d spent studying the language at any one time and 4 minutes being the average time.

The trip back to the village showed his linguistic studies to be a success as he was able to converse with the tribe without the aid of a translator. So it just goes to show that you really can learn a language in under 24 hours!

What techniques have you used to help you learn a language? Would you, like Joshua, be up for the challenge of learning a foreign language in such a short space of time?