If you’re still looking for a worthy New Year’s resolution, how about learning a new language in 2019? Studies have shown that language learning can help you tune out distractions, become better at multitasking and even ward off dementia. HPR Reporter Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has more.
Learning a new language has some very practical benefits – it opens doors to employment opportunities, new social circles, and even travel. Kamil Deen, Chair of the Linguistics Department at UH Mānoa says learning another language also helps broaden our minds.
“Language is the window through which we understand our lives. We understand how we are, we understand how other people think really through language,” says Deen, “And by learning a second language, or a third language, or a fourth language, it gives us a new window through which to see the world.”
The most widely-spoken languages in the world besides English are Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, and Arabic. The most commonly studied languages in the United States besides English are Spanish and French, but that’s changing. Deen says American Sign Language is gaining in popularity. In fact, U-H has just started teaching it.
“Turns out it is the fastest-growing foreign language in the United States and we just started offering it last year, and its growing really really fast. It’s very very popular,” says Deen.
So which language should you choose? Deen says a widely-used language is a good idea, but not the only consideration. You should also consider the level of difficulty in learning a language.
“So if you’re a native English speaker, learning German would be quite easy and learning Chinese would be quite difficult or Arabic would be quite difficult. And that’s because they’re structurally very, very different, and they don’t have so much shared vocabulary,” says Deen, “But in terms of practicality, learning Chinese here in Hawaiʻi would be very useful as would Hawaiian, as would Samoan, very useful languages for us here in Hawaiʻi.”
So you’ve chosen a language, now how do you make this New Year’s resolution stick?
“First of all I’d say, don’t set your expectations too high,” says Deen.
He says we all can’t be multilingual superstars and fluency takes time. But figuring out where you want to end up at the end of the year is important.
“Do you want to just learn a few phrases so you can communicate when you go on vacation or do you want to become fluent and be able to have a long-term relationship with somebody? Those are two very different goals,” says Deen, “The second point is you need to stick with it. If you spend 10 to 15 minutes every day just learning new vocabulary, studying a couple of patterns, you will be amazed how your knowledge gradually grows.”
Deen says the key is picking a language that you have a natural motivation to learn, and if you can find someone to interact with in that language, even better.