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How to Learn a Language (And Why)

New Language = New Ideas

Hablas Español? Do you speak Spanish? Do you speak any other languages? Learning a language is a powerful way to increase your brain power.

Maybe you've considered how good it would feel to be able to speak to people in another language, but did you know it also expands the range of your possible thoughts? It's true. There are concepts in each language that don't exist in others. There are also different expressions in each language. These can give you new ways to think, and change your perspective on things.

Language and Perspective

Is it coincidence that Americans typically see money as created, rather than as a static quantity to be divided up? Maybe not. In English, after all, one speaks of "making" money. In Spanish, by contrast, you "gain" money (the verb is ganar). In other languages, the verb used is "to take," or "to get," or "to earn." Each of these can affect how people think about money. Personally, I think "making money" is a healthy perspective, and more accurately descriptive of the reality, at least in this country.

In Spanish, you're not thirsty, afraid or cold. You say "I have thirst (yo tengo sed)," "I have fear (yo tengo miedo)," or "I have coldness (yo tengo frio)." Does it really matter how it is said? It does according to modern psychology. The best therapists now tell you not to say or think things like "I am afraid." It creates too much identification with the feeling, so it's healthier to say "I feel fear." You are not afraid - you are a human. Fear, like all feelings, is just a temporary visitor.

You can see how expressing yourself in another language can give you a different perspectives. Perhaps you'd feel differently about decision making if you only had to "take a decision" ("tomar un decision" in Spanish)" instead of "make a decision." The German word "angst," (roughly; a feeling of existential anxiety) might immediately pinpoint how you feel, when you can't quite express it in English (actually, the latter is now a part of the English language).

Better Understanding Through Language

You gain not just new words when you learn a language, but new concepts. This can lead to a better understanding of things. Who can speak more precisely about snow; someone with three or four words for it (snow, sleet, powder), or an Inuit with 23 words for it? And which is more efficient, the German word "zeitgeist" (roughly; the taste and outlook of a period or generation), or the paragraph of English that you would need to say the same thing?

Other Advantages of Learning a Language

Maybe you heard that most people experience a general improvement in memory from studying a language, but the research shows even more benefits for your brain. For example, it has been demonstrated that you can halt the age-related decline in mental function by learning a new language. You can tuck that little tip away for later in life, or better yet, start learning a new language today.

Learning a Language

Language schools, with small class sizes or one-on-one instruction are probably the most effective way to learn a language. They can be very expensive, however, and you can get some support and follow-up with the online courses available now. The advantage of these is the flexibility of studying when you have the time.

The cheapest alternative, of course is to buy or borrow books and tapes to learn a language on your own. This can work if you have the self discipline to stick with it. Just be sure to use tapes or other audio resources. Books alone won't help you develop an "ear" for a language.

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