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Non Sequitur Fridays

Why You Should Learn More Languages

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistian's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Mary Schmidt is an engineer at Wistia. Her last Non Sequitur was about running.

ichi ni san yon go roku nana hachi ku ju

When I was little, my dad used to travel to Japan pretty frequently for business. When he returned, we would eat Japanese candy while he taught me new things I could say in Japanese. Counting was one of the first things I learned, and for whatever reason, my favorite. Can you count to 100 in Japanese? Heck yes. It was like having a secret language that only my dad and I knew, except it was significantly more elegant than anything 5-year-old me could have concocted.

Thankfully I've grown up a lot since then, but I never lost my fascination with language. Languages are just so useful! And pretty fun too. There's definitely something magical about having your own language arsenal. In fact, I'd argue that there are plenty of reasons to go learn a new language right now.

¿Por qué?

The world's getting more connected!

If you're used to hearing unfamiliar sounds, you can more freely bridge gaps to do fun things, like watching foreign television shows (or video game streams)!

Learning languages is a pretty intense workout for your brain.

There’s building evidence that being bilingual gives your brain a constant workout. And you can feel it! Juggling multiple languages really keeps you on your toes. Gears in your head turn faster, and your brain wires up more connections across itself. It's like a hardware upgrade to your central processor—who doesn't want one of those?

Did I mention there are perks?

Like dreaming in other languages! It is too cool. You can also use your new knowledge to troll your friends and family by speaking to them in different languages. Up to you.

And now, there's no reason not to.

Learning a language doesn’t necessarily demand the time or attention span you might imagine. You can learn a language while doing dinner prep, half-watching Netflix, or in a more dedicated environment if you wish. 15 minutes to kill? That works.

There are traditional methods of language learning, ranging from flashcards and textbooks to more modern solutions like Rosetta Stone. But I'm going to talk about my new favorite, because it's free and asynchronous, and that's how I roll.

Enter Duolingo

Duolingo is a free language learning startup. I sign up, say that I want to learn German, and it begins.

It starts out very simple, identifying a picture of a man as "der Mann," etc. Not intimidating at all!

From there, Duolingo teaches new words in a natural language progression. It feels like how I ostensibly could have learned English back in the day. The language course starts with basic nouns, verbs, and modifiers, and progresses into more complicated subjects, tenses, and situations.

For encouragement, Duolingo embraces both the carrot and the stick.
Carrot: enticing graphics (wouldn't it be great to light up ALL these icons?!?).
Stick: rather annoying, but configurable reminder emails (remember how you wanted to learn german? you won't learn it that way! :D) grrrr...

Admittedly, there are some drawbacks…

For me, there have been a few awkward points in language learning when all the languages I know have melded into one as I try to add a new language to the mix. The new one goes from being foreign to something I could maybe adopt...and suddenly! Words, words, everywhere, and I am incapable of intelligent conversation in any language whatsoever. Old bits of languages I thought I forgot? They come right in and volunteer their services. French thinks it could be Spanish and German might as well be English. And suddenly, after all that German I learned, all I can think is "Ich bin ein Apfel."

In addition to the chaos of juggling languages, studying multiple similar languages can also get confusing. French is not a weird version of Spanish. It is its own language, and I should treat it as such. Maybe then it will hate me less.

Worth the struggle

When I spend more time with languages, I solve programming problems much quicker than I do normally. It's like my head is just churning constantly, and my day to day problems just fall into place. And when I visit my parents, I can teach their dog new tricks in some language they don't speak!

So give it a shot. Learn new things! Impress family and friends with linguistic skills! And count to 100 in whatever language you see fit. Godspeed.

What do you enjoy about learning languages? What language do you want to learn and why? Any favorite expressions in a language other than your own?

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