Language Learning Facts

Investing time and education in language learning can alter the course of your life for the better. It may increase your job prospects or give you a greater sense of cultural understanding.

Before you dive into the specifics of learning a second language, there are some facts you may not know. Understanding the origins of language and how others learn to be bilingual can help students become multilingual. 


Why Is Human Speech Unique?

No other animal is capable of complex speech like humans are. While animals may have codes for communication, they do not typically have the same formal structure. In fact, human communication has two characteristics that make it unique. Language is compositional and allows speakers to express thoughts and referential and allows speakers to exchange specific information.

Humans Have Two Language Centers

The human brain has two language centers, both located on the left side. One area, known as the Broca’s area, directs the processes that help you utter speech. In comparison, Wernicke’s area decodes the speech. When a person suffers damage to one of the areas, he or she may experience difficulty speaking or deciphering what others say. Language learning can boost the size and activity of different brain areas outside the typical centers.


Complex Speech Existed 150,000 Years Ago

While researchers do not know when modern humans began to develop spoken language, they know that homo sapiens emerged about 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. Speech allowed human ancestors to communicate complex ideas, acquire knowledge, to build tools, shelters and other means of survival. Many scientists believe that complex language has existed as long as homo sapiens have.

The World Contains 142 Language Families

Throughout the world, there are 142 language families. Of those 142, there are six which are considered major language families of the world. Each family contains about five percent of all languages. The six families include:

  • Niger-Congo
  • Austronesian
  • Trans-New Guinea
  • Sino-Tibetan
  • Indo-European
  • Afro-Asiatic

The two largest families include Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan. These two families have about 4.6 billion speakers. The two biggest languages within these families are English, Indo-European, and Mandarin Chinese, which is Sino-Tibetan.

How Can English Speakers Learn a New Language?

Globally, there are more bilingual and multilingual people than there are monolingual individuals.  A little-known fact is that being bilingual may actually help prevent cognitive deterioration. When a person speaks in one tongue, the other is still active. If you hear a word, your brain begins to guess what the word is before the person can finish speaking. A bilingual person has a larger vocabulary pool to pull from. The work your brain does to process language may help reduce cognitive deterioration.

One major misconception about learning is that adults cannot become fluent. Children may learn faster than adults, but adults still have the same capacity, if not more, as their younger counterparts. The reason children learn faster is simply that they learn differently than adults. Choosing a school that offers immersion in a language is one of the best ways for adult students to dive into the complexities of spoken and written words.


Understand the Four Tiers of Difficulty

The struggles you face while learning depends on your native tongue. For instance, if you are an English speaker, the U.S. Foreign Service Institute has divided language into four tiers of difficulty. Those in the first tier are the easiest and the fourth tier have the most difficult ones for English speakers to learn. The groups are as follows:

  • Tier One: French, Italian, Spanish, German, Indonesian, Portuguese, Romanian and Swahili
  • Tier Two: Bulgarian, Greek, Hindi, Persian, Burmese and Urdu
  • Tier Three: Cambodian, Amharic, Finnish, Hebrew and Czech
  • Tier Four: Korean, Arabic, Chinese and Japanese

Group one may take as few as 480 hours to develop basic fluency, whereas group two may take around 720 hours. It may not feel that way at first, but remember that mistakes help you learn. When you make an error, you are less likely to repeat it.

Practice for One Hour Per Day

One way to maximize the feeling of productivity while language learning is to learn the cognates. Cognates are words that share similar looks and mean the same thing. For example, if you’re an English speaker learning Spanish, you may find that about 30% to 40% of all words in English have a related word in Spanish. For example, the word ‘culture’ in English means the same as the word ‘cultura’ in Spanish. When you learn cognates first, it may increase your confidence and allow you to gain momentum.

Learning to speak fluently may feel overwhelming, but did you know you can find time even if you have a busy life? According to experts, you can make meaningful progress with as little as one hour of practice every day. If you plan to take language courses, you can use the hour on free days to practice or study your vocabulary and comprehension. One-half of your hour should be spent talking with a fluent speaker.

Indulge in TV and Music

You can enhance your skills through exposure. You may absorb more vocabulary or speech patterns if you have a podcast, radio station, or music in the background. When you watch movies or listen to music designed for native speakers, your brain is forced to synthesize the information faster. You can also choose media you are familiar with to listen to. For example, if you watch your favorite movie in a different language, with the subtitles on. When you use subtitles, you hear and see the words. Listening and reading are some of the biggest contributors to gaining fluency. In fact, you may want to dedicate about 70% of your study time to reading or listening.

Knowing the basics of language learning and its importance to the human experience can make the learning process much more interesting. Since 1915, Middlebury Language Schools has provided students at all levels with various programs and opportunities. Request information to find out more about the courses available to you.