Vicky Gough is the British Council’s Schools Adviser and has been in this role since 1994. As part of the British Council’s work to help develop international education in UK schools, Vicky advocates the learning of languages to encourage friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and the wider world. Vicky is fluent in Italian and German, having studied both at university – and regularly uses French as part of her job.
“…Learning a language has many benefits on an individual level too. Evidence has suggested that languages can boost employment opportunities, brain power and mental health…”
Why we should all be learning a language in 2016
The New Year is the perfect excuse for new beginnings. So as we all start thinking about our ambitions for self-improvement in 2016, what better way than to start learning a new language?
As the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, the British Council was founded in 1934 to create a ‘friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and the wider world’ – something we continue to do to this day. We work in more than 100 countries and work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes. Everything we do, we do in support of prosperity and security for the UK and globally.
Where does language learning fit in? Talking to hearts, not heads
To quote the late Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language that goes to his heart.” And when it comes to our attitude to language learning here in the UK, these words are a powerful reminder that, for all the advantages that being an English-speaking nation brings, having only English might be as much of a disadvantage as having no English at all.
In reality, if we want to build the kind of trust with people from other countries that underpins any kind of meaningful relationship, we really need to be talking to hearts, not heads. And with language learning not just allowing you to speak new and different words but to open up to and understand a new and different culture as well, being able to speak one is a vital skill for the future of our country.
Learning a language has many benefits on an individual level too. Evidence has suggested that languages can boost employment opportunities, brain power and mental health with the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service) even recommending learning a language as one way to help combat stress and depression. So, where to kick-off your language learning ‘voyage’ this year?
Well the good news is that thanks to technology, there has never been a better time to start learning a language. Aside from the more traditional evening classes (which are still a fantastic way to learn), there are now an abundance of apps out there which you can use to get started with your chosen language and can even do so ‘on the go’ to add a bit of ‘couleur’ to your commute.
There are also a number of free online courses or ‘MOOCs’ available which can help you to begin mastering the basics of a language as well as other online platforms where you can set-up an online language exchange via a medium such as Skype – you certainly cannot deny that we’ve come a long way from the dreaded days of grammar tests and trudging through textbooks anyway!
For starters, here are five easy (and inexpensive or free) things put together by the British Council that you can do every day to teach yourself a new language:
- Find a free online course (such as www.bbc.co.uk/languages) or app, and do a little every day. If you stick at it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you build up your vocabulary.
- Read an online article in the language you want to learn – maybe from a newspaper or magazine website. Don’t worry if you can’t understand anything at first – the more you do it, the more you’ll understand.
- Find a radio or TV station that broadcasts in the language you want to learn, and watch or listen for 15 minutes. You’ll understand more every time – and it’ll help you get used to how the language sounds.
- Switch your Facebook, games console, phone, TV or any other technology to the language of your choice. This is easier for languages with a familiar alphabet – but a great way to immerse yourself.
- Have a short conversation with someone who speaks the language. If you don’t know anyone, make a new friend – or find a penpal! Maybe you can help them with their English in return.
As part of the British Council’s recent #LearnALanguage drive to encourage people across the UK to make language learning their New Year’s resolution for 2016, we also have a short video series with lots of hints and tips which you can watch here:
The main thing is to choose a language that interests you and that you are motivated to learn – it can be a long and sometimes tough journey getting to grips with a whole new vocabulary but when you get there, it truly is ‘magnifique’ on many levels – believe me!