Ask an expert: how the COVID-19 lockdown could help our foreign language skills

12 May 2020

UCLan’s Sofia Anysiadou explains what tools are out there to help people learn a language

While in lockdown, people across the UK are becoming more creative than ever with how the spend their day.

From learning how to juggle, to doing that DIY job that has been on the list forever, hosting fun activities and quizzes with friends and families – the list of opportunities and new things to try is endless.

We spoke to Sofia Anysiadou, Manager of the Worldwise Learning Centre at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), to find out more about how families and children can use their time wisely by learning a new language.

"Learning a language can be an endlessly exciting journey. You just need to find the best technique and tools that match your own learning style."

Do you think people will use the self-isolation period to start learning another language? If so, what is the best way to go about it?

During self-isolation, people may find the time to do things they have always wanted to but never had the time. 

Learning a language can be an endlessly exciting journey. You just need to find the best technique and tools that match your own learning style.

Currently, I am learning Italian and admit it has taken me to places I have never been to. I’m speaking to people that I would have never spoken with before and I’m learning about a culture different from my own. I am also enjoying trying a lot of Italian recipes. There is no hobby more mentally stimulating and rewarding than this.

From the start of your language learning journey, it is important to have access to a wealth of resources to try and experiment with them. Many of them are available online for free.

For visual learners, Rosetta Stone and Duolingo are great resources, as well as language learning pages with ‘word of the day’ posts.

Watching films or series in the language you’re learning is another entertaining way to get to grips with new words and immerse into the culture. Currently, I am hooked on the Italian series L’amica geniale! 

It can also be helpful to join online communities to practice speaking, as well as speaking to any of your friends who might be natives of the language you’re learning to ask for help when needed.

To help you along, the Worldwise Centre team has created a digital hub on which has free language learning material, top language learning apps, easy readers as well as foreign language films and podcasts.

As children are learning in their homes and parents are looking for help to mentally stimulate their children, what language tools would you recommend for new starters or older children who are missing language classes at high school? What are the easiest languages to start learning for newcomers?

Learning a new language is a personal matter, so it is difficult to say what is the easiest language to learn. I would say start with the one you want to speak right away, the one that is going to make your life better.

You may have friends who speak that language and want to learn more about them and their culture, or you may enjoy travelling to a certain country for holidays and want to discover more things by speaking to locals on your next trip. If you have a goal, it will help you remain motivated throughout your language learning journey. 

Although using only social media and mobile applications is very tempting, writing down new words and drawing what they mean can help you remember what you have learnt, and is a very creative way to learn a new language. Setting out a daily or weekly routine helps a lot as well, as it keeps you engaged.

There are many benefits for learning a new language from a young age, but there is nothing more rewarding than the way you feel when you can greet your school friend in their own language, learn about people living in another country or even have a secret discussion with your siblings that your parents can not understand! 

What are the benefits of learning a new language?

When it comes to learning a foreign language, we tend to think that young learners are most adept. However, different life stages offer different advantages in language learning. So, it is never too late to learn a language especially when you consider in how many ways it benefits your life.

Other than developing cognitive skills, such as better memory and problem solving skills, there is evidence that learning a foreign language could delay the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s by four-and-a-half years.

Learning a new language opens up a whole new world of opportunities. It allows you to explore a culture through its native language and talk to people who might otherwise never have been able to get to know.

In today’s globalised world, it gives you a competitive edge when applying for a job and offers substantial economic benefits. The ability to communicate with colleagues and customers in their own language is invaluable not only to you but your employer as well.

The biggest advantage is being able to communicate with more people and build better relationships with them. After all, as Nelson Mandela said: “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.”