All things languages

by Emily Maybanks

There are almost 7,000 living languages in the world today, and approximately 6% of these languages have millions of speakers. Language is a beautiful, complex, ever-changing and ever-developing phenomenon. Having devoted my time at University to studying two European languages and gaining skills and knowledge in two linguistic professions – translation and interpretation, I decided to share some benefits about languages.

Eight benefits of learning a new language

There are a huge number of advantages to learning a language. Furthermore, from my own experiences, once you learn a second language, it makes it easier to learn a third or a fourth.

  1. It looks good on your CV if you can communicate in one or more foreign languages.
  2. Learning a language is great for travelling; navigating through foreign countries becomes a lot simpler if you can speak the language.
  3. You meet new people. Travelling and being able to communicate in a foreign language makes it easier to meet people.
  4. You stay healthier for longer – studies show that bilingual and multilingual people are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life.
  5. You boost your self-confidence.
  6. You improve your English. Learning a foreign language draws your focus to the mechanics of language – grammar, syntax etc., and this makes you more aware of language and thus makes you a sharper writer, editor and communicator.
  7. You become more perceptive, and more observant of the world around you. Multilingual people are more adept at focusing on relevant information.
  8. You are a better multi-tasker if you can speak more than one language as you can generally switch easily between two or more different language structures.

    What’s the best way to learn a new language?

    In my opinion, the best way to learn a new language is to completely immerse yourself in it. Spend time in a country where the language is spoken. It’s important to practice all skills in that language – reading, writing, speaking and listening. However, to help with learning the basics, the Internet is a fantastic place to start and there are several free apps devoted to language learning, including:

    Memrise
    Rosetta Stone
    Tandem
    Babbel
    Duolingo (my recommendation – it’s fun!)

    If you’re stuck for something to do during the summer break, maybe start learning a new language!

    The Positive Lexicography Project

    There are many foreign language words that have no English equivalent, which is a very beautiful thing about languages and language learning.

    Tim Lomas started the Positive Lexicography Project which is a long, ongoing journal of untranslatable emotions or emotive experiences. Lomas said that “he was first inspired after hearing a talk on the Finnish concept of sisu, which is a sort of “extraordinary determination in the face of adversity”. According to Finnish speakers, the English ideas of “grit”, “perseverance” or “resilience” do not come close to describing the inner strength encapsulated in their native term. It was “untranslatable” in the sense that there was no direct or easy equivalent encoded within the English vocabulary that could capture that deep resonance.”  Intrigued, he began to hunt for further examples, scouring the academic literature and asking every foreign acquaintance for their own suggestions. Many of Lomas’ terms refer to highly specific positive feelings, which often depend on very particular circumstances. Examples include:

    Desbundar (Portuguese) – to shed one’s inhibitions in having fun

    Yuan bei (Chinese) – a sense of complete and perfect accomplishment

    Sukha (Sanskrit) – genuine lasting happiness independent of circumstances

    The best untranslatable words

    To finish, here are some of the most interesting words from other languages which have no English equivalent. Hopefully, they will inspire the desire to learn a new language.

    Tingo (Pascuense) – to gradually steal all the possessions from a neighbour by borrowing and not returning them.

    Pochemuchka (Russian) – a person who asks too many questions

    Backpfeifengesicht (German) – a face badly in need of a fist

    Gattara (Italian) – a woman, often old and lonely, who devotes herself to stray cats

    Utepils (Norwegian) – to sit outside on a sunny day enjoying a beer

    Age-otori (Japanese) – to look worse after a haircut

    Cwtch (Welsh) – a hug/a cuddle

    Cynefin (Welsh) – the relationship one has to the place where one was born and/or feels at home

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