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The Magic of Learning a Language: Why I Love a Little Owl

by Amanda Roach

When I was in high school, I took a major interest in learning a new language.  Being able to communicate with humans I had previously been unable to was intriguing to me, and it is one of the reasons why I chose Mass Communication as a major at Texas Wesleyan.  Currently, I am taking Beginning Spanish 2 and I have loved every minute of learning a new way to communicate.

But taking a language class at a University is not an option for everyone, especially when we are all stuck at home.  So buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, we are gonna spend some time with one of the top language-learning apps in the world.

If you have lived in Texas, even for a short while, it is likely you know some basics of Spanish.  If you took a second language class in high school, you probably remember some of it, maybe even enough to have a basic conversation or to describe yourself.  Maybe you picked up some words from friends that have learned other languages than you.  But have you ever wanted to go a little deeper than that?

Duolingo is a free app that allows users to learn another language in a fun and engaging way.  The app is structured to have different categories that you can learn in, and you progress down the “tree” as you complete each set of lessons.

The app features 37 languages, including two fictional languages, Klingon (from Star Trek) and High Valyrian (from Game of Thrones.)  Another language on Duolingo that blows my mind is Latin – yes, you can learn LATIN on Duolingo!

The course is fun and silly at times while also being a hardcore teacher.  If you forget to do a daily lesson, the app WILL remind you to log on and get it done!

You might be wondering why I chose to highlight learning a language so early on in this time of isolation.  Well, I think language can help connect us to one another.  The ability to communicate with one another is already awesome enough, but the fact that humans have the capability to learn multiple ways of conversing is something that is distinctly human.

Once we are all through this, I think the world will need a lot of communication and connection.  This is a great way to start.

Learning a language is a life skill that can help you in many situations.  The number of times I’ve now been able to understand and speak to people that would have otherwise been outside of my circle is immense.

Not to mention that it is an educational time-passer.  15 minutes a day can teach you a language, whereas 15 minutes of social media is ultimately useless.

So here are some of my pro-tips for learning a language – coming from someone who has a 724-day-streak on Duolingo:

1. Read all the given phrases out loud.

Whether you do Duolingo or any other language-learning program, they will undoubtedly at some point given you phrases to translate.  Read these out loud in your new language.  Often times, pronunciation is a big thing that can trip you up, and practicing how to say new phrases will help you to get acclimated to the way the language works.

2. Write down new words or phrases after each lesson.

And when I say after, I do mean after it has left your screen.  Test what you remember from the lesson, not your ability to write words on paper.  Don’t forget any accent marks or special characters, too!

3. Pay attention to grammar.

I know, I know…grammar is tough enough in English.  But many languages structure their sentences differently than we structure ours.  Paying attention to where nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs belong in each sentence can be incredibly beneficial to your language learning.

4. Try to immerse yourself.

Watch a Telenovela.  Call your family by the Russian terms.  Read a book in German.  Fingerspell words you use daily in Sign Language.  Social distancing can make language learning by immersion hard, so sometimes you have to think outside of the box.  These are some fun things you can do that will reinforce your new language throughout the day.

5. Be easy on yourself.

Don’t fall for the promise of being fluent in 30 days or a year or whatever.  It takes time.  I’ve been learning with Duolingo and University Spanish classes for around two years now and I still only feel I can have basic conversations.  BUT that is better than where I would be if I hadn’t taken those steps at all.  To be fair, sometimes I “can’t English correctly”, either.  Remind yourself that it’s a process and you’ll be encouraged by your progress.

Being able to communicate with one another is a skill that anyone can benefit from.  I encourage you to look into this awesome resource and to start learning today.  According to the app, 36 hours on Duolingo (or approximately 144 days of 15 minutes per day) is the equivalent of one semester of a foreign language.  Don’t give up.  This process takes time, but it is incredibly rewarding.

Do any of our bilingual Rams have any tips for learning a new language?  Let us know down in the comments!

Coming up tomorrow: Tips and tricks for the most important meal of the day

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