Now that I have entered my twenties and have already spent a number of years masquerading as an adult, I often find myself reminiscing fondly about the things I did at school. I always enjoyed learning and was lucky to attend schools that encouraged and nurtured my creative skills. I spent every lunchtime with my friends in the art room, finishing one project or another, while a never-ending playlist of our teacher’s peculiar taste in music kept us inspired. Fully indulging myself in creative pursuits throughout my schooling has defined me as an adult and I wouldn’t be a writer or photographer without the opportunities I had. It therefore comes as something of a surprise to me that one of the subjects I miss the most is German.
Ah, German! I struggled with French (perhaps I lack the necessary romantic streak) but German always struck me as pure logic and reason. It was easier to get my head around the sentence structure and I didn’t have to roll the ‘r’ sound – an almost impossible feat! Perhaps a sensitive subject in the wake of the UK’s referendum results, German is the most widely spoken language in Europe and is hugely important in business and science globally. Some of the world’s greatest pieces of literature and music have come from Germany and most (if not all) of the philosophers and classical composers I can name off the top of my head are German.
However, I’m not here to list statistics about German culture – as we begin the lengthy divorce procedure from the European Union I don’t want to create division or resentment where there need be none – but my opinions about learning their language are applicable to any you could choose. In our country we are woefully inadequate as far as learning a second language is concerned. Many of us rely on the prevalence of English across the globe and often expect other countries to compensate for our lack of knowledge. I am only fluent in English but having a grasp of German and continuing to work on it has already proven useful; recently I was asked to help translate instructions for defrosting a German freezer!
Not only is it a more globally responsible thing to do, to learn to communicate in more than one language, it can also be fun. Gone are the days when copying verb endings out of textbooks is the strategy for learning! Personally, my favourite way to continue my learning as an adult is with Duolingo. I have looked at textbooks to go alongside the study but for pure fun, Duolingo wins every time! Available on the computer and with free apps for android and iPhone, there aren’t many people without access to this platform. I love that they turn learning into a game; it’s competitive rather than repetitive. The app focuses on your skills and weaknesses, customising lessons to prioritise the areas you struggle with, and it provides a visual representation of your progress so you can see how far you’ve come!
Free advertising aside, I know that not everyone has the time or the desire to learn another language but there are plenty of benefits if you do decide to give it a go. For one thing, learning a foreign language is really good for your brain! It can actually increase your brain size and make it stronger and better able to maintain memories into old age. For me, learning a language is relaxing and fun. I don’t do it religiously, preferring to keep study for when I’m really in the mood in order to avoid becoming disenchanted, but I try to make the effort pretty regularly. If you enjoy learning or have rose-tinted memories of your language-learning school days, I would definitely recommend it as a way to improve your happiness. Mental exercises like these are great to keep your brain healthy and taking ten minutes out of your day to sit still and immerse yourself in the language intricacies of other cultures can’t be a bad thing!
On a more serious note, if you are disappointed about Brexit and the uncertainty it brings about our future within Europe, learning a European language will be one of the best ways to increase your chances of living and working within the EU. The future is uncertain but, no matter the outcome, learning a foreign language is certainly something to be positive about.