5-MINUTE EXPERT:

Thanks to modern technology, it’s never too late to enrich your non-English vocabulary

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Sun, Mar 1, 2020 (2 a.m.)

"Donde está la biblioteca?” It’s a simple phrase students across the United States must memorize in Spanish class, but not one they’re bound to use in everyday conversation. (Maybe you should. We’ll get to that in a minute.) For many Americans, language learning stops after high school, but today it’s easier than ever to expand your linguistic horizons.

It’s natural to develop a sort of separation anxiety when straying from one’s mother tongue. The sounds are different, the letters are different, the grammar rules are different, the ways words form are different. Writing, speaking, listening and reading are suddenly unfamiliar. So take advantage of the great gift of the modern age—technology. Apps and online courses can get you started on your language journey.

Did you know?

• With more than 1 billion speakers, Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world.

• English is thesecond-most spoken language worldwide, with some 982 million speakers.

• Tagalog, a language spoken in the Philippines, is the third-most spoken language in Nevada following English and Spanish.

• Behind English, Spanish is the second-most spoken language in 48 states and Washington, D.C.

Which English?

Wielding the power of social media, in 2018, Boston researchers surveyed 669,498 native and non-native English speakers via the 10-minute viral language quiz, “Which English?” It asked participants English grammar questions, then guessed their native language, dialect and home country based on the results. At the end, people answered questions about their demographics, native language, where they have lived and whether they had learned any other languages.

The study gave the research team insights into the critical window for language learning. While they couldn’t pinpoint an exact cause, researchers suggested the drop could be related to the brain’s decrease in adaptability as we age, lifestyle changes, fear of making mistakes or a simple unwillingness to learn. The study also showed that students fared better with immersion than a classroom setting, and that it takes at least 30 years to fully master a language.

Languages aren’t easy

Do you ever find yourself wishing you really had paid more attention in Spanish class? The science backs up your instincts, and in fact, you probably should have started sooner. Studies have shown that children can learn languages far more easily than adults can, prompting many primary schools to add language learning to their curricula. Good thing, too, because according to a recent study published in the journal Cognition, your ability to reach fluency drops after age 10, and your ability to learn a language well at all drops after 17.

Digital classrooms

With more than 6,000 languages spoken around the world today, it’s hard to know where to start. Only you can determine what language is “useful” to you. Consider factors like your geography, your travel dreams or your professional goals. Once you have an idea, dive right into some continuing education with the aid of technology. Apps and online courses bring thousands of languages right to your fingertips. Here are some to explore.

Don’t despair!

Even if you feel short on time to reach fluency, a little effort can go a long way. Learning a new language connects you to cultural experiences, improves your communication skills, can help advance your career and slows brain decline. With intuitive apps and online courses, you don’t even have to dust off your old textbooks.

Citizen Science

Want to be a part of linguistics studies? Joshua Hartshorne, an assistant professor of psychology at Boston College and co-author of the study, is continuing his online language experiments. Check out gameswithwords.org to learn more.

Libraries of Babel

Already a temple to knowledge and information, your local library is a great place to look for language-learning opportunities. Public libraries throughout the Las Vegas Valley offer several avenues of language resources, all available with the power of your library card. Check out books and audiobooks, download e-books, link up with a tutor, drop in on a conversation group, or connect to apps and online courses.

Some popular apps offer the same content without the monthly fee. All you need is your library card and a password, and you can learn a new language for F-R-E-E. Gratis. Frítt. Besplatno.

• Henderson Libraries: Duolingo and iLove Languages

• Las Vegas-Clark County Library District: Great Courses Library Collection

• North Las Vegas Library District: Transparent Language Online

Apps to download

• Babbel: Similar to an online classroom curriculum approach. Offers variations of words and phrases. Minimalist interface.

• Busuu: Features goal-oriented study plans. Reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Constructive feedback from native speakers.

• Drops: Good for enhancing vocabulary. Visual learning and memorization. Lessons only available every 10 hours unless you level up to paid version.

• Duolingo: Learn via games and stories. Great for trying out multiple languages. Ad-free option available.

• Great Courses Library Collection: Thousands of in-depth video lectures on just about as many subjects, including languages. Access the lectures online via your public library, if available.

• Lingoda: Live online group or private classes, one hour each. Native-speaking teachers. Features three learning tracks.

• Memrise: Good for learning casual conversation. Videos show how native speakers express different phrases, give a literal translation and explain gender usage.

• Mondly: Focus is on phrases, not individual words. Listen to native speakers. Augmented reality lessons and chatbot tool.

• Pimsleur: Trusted language-learning method since 1963. Heavily audio-based. Comprehensive lessons are a suggested 30 minutes a day for 30 days.

• Rocket Languages: Audio lessons focus on speaking and pronunciation. Reading, writing and cultural lessons also available.

• Rosetta Stone: Best-known language-learning service since its start in the 1990s. Auditory-focused learning. Traveler phrasebook.

• Transparent Languages Online: More than 100 languages. Speaking practice, typing activities and more.

This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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