How to learn a language during lockdown

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Language learning apps have reported a surge in use since the UK went into ‘lockdown’.

Katrin Kohl, Professor of German Literature, says this shows that people see language learning as “a fruitful way to save time”.

She warns that many people have been put off language learning by “demanding” and “harsh” GCSE and A level exam papers and grading, compared to other subjects.

But she highlights that there is a huge pool of talent for languages in the UK. In England, for more than one in five primary school children and almost one in six students at secondary level, English is a second language. “This means they already have well-developed language learning skills, a benefit that isn’t sufficiently valued at present,” she says.

Professor Kohl leads the Creative Multilingualism research project, which has studied a number of key questions around languages including their link to creativity.

If you are considering learning a new language while stuck at home, here are her top tips:

  • Don’t set the bar too high
  • Set a modest minimum per day, and do more if you’re feeling energetic
  • Vocabulary learning can be fun with a helpful app, and you can measure your progress
  • Practice pronunciation – find how a word is pronounced online by typing in the word and ‘pronounce’
  • Read a novel in the language with a strong plot, e.g. a Georges Simenon thriller if you’re learning French, and refer to a translation. Or read a translated Agatha Christie and refer to the English original (Set yourself very short sections to begin with). There again, La Peste by Albert Camus is currently proving very popular.
  • Watch ads and kids’ stuff on YouTube.
  • Watch a non-serious film with subtitles, then watch it without, in very short sections.
  • Follow news stories – e.g. developments with the coronavirus crisis. Compare the reporting.
  • Research information about a hobby in a country where the language is spoken. Find a blog that’s relevant.
  • What place might you go to where the language is spoken? Explore local websites to find out what there is to see and do using local websites, and involve Google Translate to help you along.
  • Try your hand at translating a very simple text, with a dictionary and Google Translate.
  • Find a language learning buddy. It’s much easier to learn a language and keep it going if you’re doing it with someone else or in a class.

Read more about Professor Kohl on the University's Arts Blog.