Why make learning a foreign language your New Year’s resolution?


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The Independent Travel

It seems a bit churlish to start talking about New Year’s resolutions when we still have Christmas and all its glorious overindulgences to look forward to, but not all resolutions have to involve new trainers, rice cakes and celery.

When it comes to learning a new foreign language – that other January to-do list gem - there is possibly a good reason for forward-planning this time around.

Over the last year, the take-up of foreign language classes, particularly in the private training sector has been phenomenal. German classes at the Goethe-Institut in South Kensington have been maxed out this last intake, according to its London Director Sabine Hentzsch. Similarly, Director of Language Training, Chris Moore, from the language training company Cactus, concurs that 2009 has seen the highest number of student enrolments for evening classes right across its 25 London locations, particularly in the less likely languages such as Turkish, Portuguese, Swedish and Hindi.

The downturn in the economy appears to have brought with it an increase in people’s availability, a desire or need to up-skill, and the required access to funding through payoffs or other compensation.

Hentzsch seems to think that it is perhaps the dwindling job market in the UK which has brought about the realisation that UK based nationals may well be seeking to extend their options abroad, or equally, that as the world becomes smaller the international nature of commerce will demand better language skills from employees in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Whatever the case, the statistics speak for themselves. Although the current economic situation has certainly affected the take up of foreign languages for work-related reasons, the great thing about learning a language is that the benefits will have positive ramifications on a personal, social and cultural level too.

For a nation of keen travellers, Brits have a reputation for being notoriously bad at foreign languages. To be fair, it doesn’t seem to deter us, nor present us with too many irresolvable issues, but it’s generally the case that learning some of the language before going abroad will ensure a more authentic experience. Not only will the practicalities of foreign travel become easier, so too will the ability to appreciate the culture, traditions and people of the country you are visiting.

As Britain becomes an increasingly multi-cultural society, the benefits of learning a language to help appreciate related cultural and social elements will also become evident. These days, you are much more likely to live in a community and develop friendships and relationships with people from other nations. The natural desire to approach and interact with people from abroad will be catalysed by knowledge of their language.

Moore describes how many people at Cactus try a language out for 10 weeks just to get a feel for what it is like, how it works. People learning say, Czech or Polish, may have no desire to be fluent in the language, but will have some reason to benefit from the associated proximity to the culture, be it that they are off on holidays or that their new partner is from that country, and there’s the looming prospect of meeting the parents.

The good news when it comes to language learning these days is that the emphasis on learning is very much on creating a ‘fun’ and ‘communicative’ environment in which to do so.

Gone are the days of learning verbs by rote and writing pages upon pages of grammatical rules in notebooks. There are lots of ways to learn a language outside of secondary or tertiary education, including evening courses, one-to-one tuition, and perhaps most popular of all, via CDs or online learning packages. Many of the online resources especially are very interactive, and offer the utmost convenience in that it is totally up to you when you study. If you are someone who prefers learning in a classroom environment though, make sure that you book your place for courses starting in January sooner rather than later if this year’s trend is anything to go by!

Cactus has Evening courses commencing in 25 languages and 25 London locations from January. Goethe-Institut courses start in February