It’s debateable as to whether our increasingly connected world is making English an increasingly dominant lingua franca, or if it’s in fact doing the opposite and giving increased strength to other tongues. Whatever your viewpoint, we meet and converse with a number of people like never before. Learning another language certainly can’t do you any harm.
The problem for many is that they fall victim to the idea that languages get harder to learn the older we get. While there is evidence to support this, a lot of people take this as a reason to not even try. This is, of course, foolish. Don’t be put off by the fact that it might be difficult, but try to be encouraged by the rewards you’ll receive at the end.
Why it’s a good idea for freelancers
The language barrier means most people are cut off from a large section of the world’s population. Sure, you might get a client that’s so desperate to hire you they’ll hire a translator or attempt a conversation using Google Translate, but it’s unlikely. Either way, if a client is struggling to explain to you what they want it will be difficult to make them happy.
By branching out linguistically you’re make an investment with both time and money. Remember that even though English might be one of the most prevalent languages in the world, it isn’t the most popular. Mandarin is way ahead of English in terms of total speakers. When it comes to native ones Spanish is as well. That’s a lot of people you can’t talk to.
Jack Zorzi, who runs Jack’s Deliveries speaks both Italian and English and says that’s helped him get more jobs. He said:
“Not all overseas customers speak English so by knowing their language I can potentially double my amount of customers.”
Of course even getting to a conversational level can take time, but it doesn’t mean you won’t see the benefits before then. Even knowing a few phrases here and there can be a great way to break the ice when you’re networking or pitching. It’s not exactly the most scientific of ways to increase your workload, but it’s still another little skill that can put you ahead of the competition.
Here are a few ways to get started and, if used in tandem, you’ll be surprised at just how quickly you can progress.
Dubbed and subtitled TV
This is probably the most passive ways I’ve ever learnt anything. I used to live with a French lady and we were both, for better or worse, obsessed with Lost. Problem was, while she spoke very decent English, she sometimes found it difficult to follow the plot without French subtitles. That’s clearly forgivable because it was sometimes impossible for me to follow the plot in English.
Either way, we watched a lot of this show, and a few others that either had French subtitles or were dubbed into French. I found myself picking up words without even trying. It starts with the most common words, as your brain starts making the connection between the same words in different languages. Slowly other less common words start to creep in and you even begin to pick up parts of the grammar. This was from simply watching the show, when I made the effort to pay attention to the languages I learnt even more.
While you’ll be hard-pressed to learn an entire language this way, it’s a great way to get a feel for it, pick up common words and phrases, and get used to the pronunciation.
Be careful with that last bit though. If you’re watching a foreign TV show with English subtitles, it might be worth finding out the context of those speaking. Imagine a German coming over to the UK having learnt his pronunciation of English from Eastenders. As hilarious as that might be, you can see why that can cause problems.
Free language learning services
Most people have heard of software like Rosetta Stone, but many either can’t afford it or aren’t willing to download a hooky copy. Luckily, there are other options which are incredibly effective and also free. It seems that people are starting to catch on as one of these, Duolingo, is now searched for more often than Rosetta Stone.
Duolingo offers a browser-based service and an app to help you learn a language. Currently they offer French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. They are also crowdsourcing other languages with the intention to turn them into full-fledged courses.
The process is very simple and easy to use.It takes you through different levels that slowly builds up your grammar skills and your vocabulary. Admittedly some of the phrases that get thrown up are a little odd, but they’re entertaining in and of themselves. The Twitter account Shit Duolingo Says collates some of the odder ones:
What does your time machine look like? – À quoi ressemble ta machine à remonter le temps ? — Shit Duolingo Says (@shitduosays) February 24, 2014
Even without gravity on Earth, I would fall in love with you. – Même sans gravité sur Terre, je tomberais amoureux de toi.
— Shit Duolingo Says (@shitduosays) February 14, 2014
I’m not drunk, I’m just drunk on you. – Je ne sais pas saoul, je suis juste ivre de vous.
— Shit Duolingo Says (@shitduosays) February 4, 2014
A similar site is one called Memrise. It offers courses on pretty much anything, including Pokemon names and types of cheese. It puts a lot of emphasis on memory recall, so while you may not learn as many grammar rules as you would with Duolingo, practical results come much quicker. The courses are more varied too, some will teach you the basics so you can get by on holiday, while others will just be a long list of words and their translations.
Their methods are incredibly effective, while very simple. It’s all based on repetition and they even have an option to use user-created images to help you remember things. I decided to test out how well it all works. I have a pretty poor memory, but within the space of three days I’d used this course to learn all the capital cities of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. While some have slipped from my mind due to a lack of practice, if you’re dedicated to your learning, you’ll get very far. Duolingo and Memrise compliment each other very well.
Fall in love
It’s no secret that when we fall for someone they can give us a huge boost of enthusiasm for new things, whether to impress, support or create a mutual interest. While this can sometimes be channelled into actions not so useful, it can be used to great effect when it comes to language.
Take, for example, a friend of mine who has shown zero interest in languages and didn’t exactly do well in school. Even teaching him a few phrases of Italian while down the pub proved difficult. This was until he met a Turkish love interest and, all of a sudden, had a reason to learn. Within a few months he had progressed to an impressive level and shown that he had the ability to do well with languages.
Of course, this piece of advice may not seem all that useful – you can’t just seek out a person that speaks the language you want to learn and simply fall in love. What I am saying is that enthusiasm is key. If you can’t keep up regular practice then you won’t succeed.
Find a way to keep yourself interested. Whether it’s for your partner, for a job or for a holiday, finding something to keep you motivated will be integral.