It’s said so often that it’s become a running joke.
“I took two/three/four years of Spanish/German/French in school, but all I remember is (insert awkward and useless phrase here).”
Learning a foreign language has become a standard for education all over the world. In a globalised, digitalised world, the need for people who speak multiple languages continues to grow. Foreign language proficiency is a highly marketable skill. Not only does it make you more attractive to employers, but also opens up opportunities for working with communities, companies and in fields that otherwise would be closed.
Unfortunately, there is a misconception that if you haven’t mastered a foreign language by the age of 18, becoming fluent is virtually impossible. And if you are one of the millions who have passed through several years of mandatory foreign language classes without learning anything, that idea can seem true. I am here to tell you that it’s not. You CAN master another language, even in your adulthood.
Let's begin with being clear about what we mean by being fluent. Most people assume fluency is the same as native level comprehension. That’s not true. Fluency means that you can comfortably and articulately express yourself in a foreign language. A fluent speaker can both read and write the language and can hold articulate conversations with native speakers without struggling to be understood. It is not the same as native level grammatical fluency, which you may approximate over time.
What if you are one of the many who has left your school days behind without mastering another language. Well, it’s never too late to begin. Investing in a few language classes is a great way to broaden your career prospects. There are many options, from self-study programs to language learning schools. Many people even get one to one tutoring online with a qualified foreign language instructor.
Be sure to avoid the pitfall that derails most language learners, namely, failing to reinforce what you’ve learned. While trying to learn Korean, some students made a habit of listening to Korean music, playing Korean dramas while at home and making use of Korean words in everyday life. Some even went so far as to join online groups where they could chat with native speakers. The difference between those who went the extra mile and those who didn’t was startling.
In a little more than a year, with serious study, they were quite proficient in Korean and not far from achieving the kind of fluency they wanted. What they did was akin to creating an immersion program; integrating the new language into as much of their daily life as possible. Similar immersive programs for Arabic, French, and Spanish have also had amazing results, taking university and post-graduate students from having no knowledge of the language to conversational fluency in a few months.
Staying competitive in the job market means that you should constantly be adding new skill sets to your CV. A new language is a great way to enrich your life and open doors to new opportunities.