How to learn a language in lockdown

Here we are again - not the start to the year that any of us wished for. This time, enthusiasm for perfecting your sourdough or swapping banana bread recipes seems to be on the wane but one big lockdown trend seems as relevant as ever.

In 2020, despite the world shutting down and overseas travel looking like a distant speck on the horizon, Brits focused on learning new languages like no other nation.

Bizarrely, despite having a rather ropey reputation for our linguistic skills, the first lockdown seemed to spark an enthusiasm for turning that around. Online apps like Duolingo, Babbel and Rosetta Stone found user numbers rocketing with UK subscribers leading the way.

Duolingo reported that globally, users went up by 67% but the UK almost doubled the worldwide average, increasing by 132%. German company Babbel’s data showed a similar spike in the UK, with new subscriptions jumping 80% compared to 50% elsewhere – but they had further intriguing news: we’re not as bad at languages as our reputation suggests!

So if learning a new language is a cheap, effective and interesting way to spend these dark winter weeks of lockdown, here’s our guide to getting the best out of it.

Choose your language: business or pleasure?

If we can all see past the negative headlines about summer holidays in 2021, then the most common criteria for choosing a language is for practical use. If you love to travel in a particular country, then using this time to get a better grip on the native language will be of huge personal gain.

However, perhaps you’re looking to acquire a new skill which might pay dividends in the future. In that case it’s worth doing some research into which languages are most in demand or could be particularly useful.

London’s Busuu app has this article of its top languages for 2021 whilst Bilingua’s guide focuses on the best languages for business.

5 tips for effective learning

So you’ve chosen your language and you’ve got the motivation to learn – so how do you maximise the impact of your time? Here’s what our experts say:

  1. Make it fun – if it feels like a chore, your heart won’t be in it so make sure you don’t put yourself under too much pressure. Language apps use gamification to spark interest and inspire your competitive nature.

  2. Find a buddy – motivating yourself can seem like a lonely task, so if you learn with a friend, you’re more likely to step up to the challenge. Either find someone else who wants to learn and embark on the journey together, or pair up with someone who already speaks the language – great for encouragement and practise. If you can spend time with your buddy over zoom or on a socially distanced walk, even better. 

  3. Embrace your mistakes – it’s hard to learn if you’re too afraid to try. Expert linguists learn a few basics and then have the confidence to try things out. The more you practise, the more you learn but don’t wait until your knowledge is perfect – get out there and talk, read and listen right away.

  4. Repeat, repeat, repeat – spaced repetition is a hack to make your brain store knowledge. You’ll notice most language courses repeat info regularly, at intervals – this boosts retention.

  5. Listen, watch and learn – witnessing others speaking in your chosen language is great for enhancing vocabulary, honing your accent and familiarising yourself with fluent speech. Choose a film you know well and stream it in your chosen language – you’ll pick up so much about how that language is used in a setting that’s so familiar.

Now you’re away – enjoy your language journey! And don’t forget that fluency in language is an asset so add your new skill to your CV.

If you really find you’re thirsty for more in the linguistic field, don’t forget you can make a career out of it. We did! 

It’s always heartening to find opportunities in hard times and you never know – whether you find you can speak fluently on your next holiday, or it sparks a whole new career plan, this lockdown project will almost certainly leave you with a valuable new talent.

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