Challenge Yourself With a Foreign Language

Image Credit: Pixabay 905513

Image Credit: Pixabay 905513

Learning a second language is hard. It’s rewarding but it is hard. What you should know is that unless you were exposed to other languages in your childhood, it’s supposed to be hard. Linguists have developed a theory about why second language acquisition becomes increasingly difficult as we advance through our life stages. The answer is this: the Critical Period. 

“If a language is acquired in parallel with the development of the human brain as children grow, it is reasonable to postulate some language function in the brain. Consequently, the critical period for language learning is considered to be the biologically determined period in which the brain keeps its plasticity for acquisition of any language.” -Katsumi NAGAI

The Critical Period Hypothesis argues that after puberty, around the age of 12, learning a second language becomes much more difficult. The brain becomes less inclined to process new languages. But it is not impossible! Although high school and college students have mostly missed the Critical Period, there are benefits to challenging oneself with a foreign language.

1) Options
French, German, and Spanish aren’t the only classes available to you. Universities offer a more extensive range of options for students looking for a specific topic of study than do high schools. Outside of school, there are videos, podcasts, and apps that can guide beginners in learning a new language. While not every school has every language, the variety is remarkable. If you found you didn’t like taking French in high school or even if you want to take Latin to get a better understanding of English, it’s possible and encouraged to branch out.

2) In Depth
Unlike high school, foreign language at the college level is much more encompassing; it’s more than writing simple sentences and memorizing verb conjugations. Yes, the basics are included, but the classes go beyond grammar. There is history, geography, current events; foreign language classes in college go more in-depth than you can imagine. You learn about the nations and societies that use the language you are learning; it’s culture. Foreign language at the college level may seem intimidating: it moves faster, there is a lot to cover, and there are higher standards. But by using the language to learn about other topics, your knowledge acquisition is two-fold. 

3) Study Abroad
Of course, the easiest way to acquire a language is through total immersion. The best way to do that is to study abroad. Many foreign language departments encourage their students to travel overseas and offer a myriad of scholarships to help them get there. Even if you are a foreign language novice, having a grasp of the language will help you feel more at ease in a different country. 

4) Marketable
Having a foreign language under your belt, or even a grasp of one is very appealing to employers. It speaks volumes about your communication skills, patience, and dedication (not to mention your ability to cross the language barrier). As trade becomes more globalized, employers are looking for people to help them stay in touch with other nations. Knowing a foreign language makes you marketable; employers will see in your opportunities to broaden their scopes. 

5) Improve Your English
The funny thing about learning a new language is that it betters your understanding of the language you already know. All those parts of speech and grammatical devices that went over your head in high school English have to be relearned and reapplied during second language acquisition. Understanding bits and pieces of one language can improve your knowledge of another. Those participles and verb tenses that you had to know for Spanish become recognizable in English. 

Foreign language classes are demanding; there is rarely a time when you don’t have work you could be doing. Learning a new language can be challenging and frustrating, but they can also be interesting and connective. It is best to immerse yourself in the language by listening to music, watching movies/shows, using mobile apps, etc. It all comes down to how you choose to approach such a challenge. Will you become frustrated with a few missteps? Will you let it beat you? Or will you accept the challenge and take a foreign language class?