Parlez vous...? Tips for learning a new language

Pandemic quarantine has made the idea of learning a new language appealing. It's a great way to alleviate boredom and bond without sacrificing social distance.

With some folks confined to quarters with lots of down time, and others grieving their lost dreams of foreign travel, it's appealing to connect to global culture via language skills.

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You'll also boost your cognitive and social skills by learning a new language. According to research reported by the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization, being able to speak two different languages is linked to better memory, enhanced creativity and improved visual-spatial skills. If you've got the time and are feeling inspired, you can increase your chances of actually learning the language instead of quitting in frustration after a couple of days. "You need three main elements to be effective: You have to learn smart, you have to practise, and you need some kind of motivation so that you don't give up.Just follow these strategies," Doctor of Philosophy and communications and language consultant Vyv Evans advised in Psychology Today,

To learn a new language with the most enjoyment and least hassle, follow these strategies from Evans and other language experts:

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Go for the easiest. When your mother tongue is English, you may want to start with another language that is at least vaguely similar in terms of what Evans calls the "huge variation in terms of sounds used by any given language; not all languages select the same set of sounds....The advice from the UK Foreign Service Institute is that, if you're an English native speaker, Japanese is the most difficult language to learn—followed by Arabic, Polish, Georgian, Mandarin, Hungarian, and Thai. Essentially, these are all languages that have a totally different vocabulary system, pronunciation, and grammatical system compared to English."

Start for free. According to Fast Company, these are the best free immersive language programs and apps to utilize while you shelter in place:

Rosetta Stone, which is offering free three-month subscriptions

Babbel, with three months of freebie instruction in select languages

Fable Cottage, offering free-to-access bilingual folk tales (like "Snow White") in languages including French and Spanish

Conjuguemos, which is geared towards instructors and offering free language-building tools for students.

Target the most useful vocabulary. Instead of randomly picking up phrases like "the alligator transports his own matching luggage," strategize what vocabulary and grammar patterns will benefit you most, Evans added. "Oxford lexicographers have analysed texts using statistical patterning, and so on, in order to identify the most important and most frequently used words in English," he explained. "So, my advice, in terms of language learning, is to focus on the most frequent and useful core words in the language you've decided to learn."

Personalize your plan. "Another smart way to approach vocabulary learning is to think about what you're learning the language for: If you're learning to be an engineer, concentrate on learning those professional terms first," Evans added. "Also, be targeted with grammar. You don't have to learn everything; again, identify grammatical patterns, focus on the most common, and learn those. There are no shortcuts to memorising stuff, so you have to be smart about it."

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Try all the fun ways to practice. "My advice is to interact in your language daily without travelling—and with modern technology this is so easy to do," Evans advised. "Depending on one's area of interest, one can focus on music or literature, download books, comics, and newspapers, or watch videos on YouTube. You can link up with site-based conversation practise tutorials, find Skype language buddies, or pay people who speak other languages to talk about things with a mutual interest."

Or, rev up your computer screen or television for "Language Learning with Netflix." It allows you to pep up your foreign language vocab by watching films and series produced in the language you're studying. At the same time, it enables you to read simultaneous subtitles in your native language and your target language, sort of like a streaming translation in progress. And the free extension (from the Google Chrome Web store) includes a pop-up dictionary, in case you fall behind the characters.

Go on, what are you waiting for? While studies have shown that our overall ability to pick up a new language, particularly certain types of grammar, decreases with age, the experts are still reassuring.