Language learning

Learning English with "Friends"

Many successful English language learners use television shows to learn.

Sitcoms (situation comedies) are especially popular. And, without a doubt, Friends is the most popular one. It has easy-to-understand English, familiar situations, and lovable characters. The show ended in 2004, but it's still one of the most-watched shows on streaming channels.

Elif Konus, from Turkey, used the show (among other things) to learn English. Now, she is an English teacher and has written English lessons based on "Friends" episodes. She even used the learning technique for her Master's thesis.

Celebrities such as Kim Nam-joon, the leader of the South Korean pop group BTS, have used Friends to learn English.

Cook to learn English

English is a tool you can use to do many things. Since English is a global language, you can use it to learn things from different cultures.

A fun way to learn English is cooking. You have to know how to talk about the ingredients, measurements, textures, times and flavor descriptions, and explain the process. And, if you teach cooking in English, your pronunciation needs to be clear enough for others to understand.

Accordingly, in 2015, two English language teachers in Manchester, UK, set up a program called Heart and Parcel. Karolina Koscien and Clare Courtney gather immigrant women together to cook dumplings. Why dumplings? Because "parceled foods" are universal to all cultures. Women from different countries can all come together with their recipes and share their unique histories with each other. Besides language learning, social connections are formed that help the women thrive in their new home.

Making learning a lifelong habit

According to The Harvard Business Review (HBR), lifetime learners consider learning as a source of personal and professional fulfillment. The Economist recently argued that with all the disruptions in the modern economy, particularly technology, ongoing skill development is key to maintaining professional relevance.

Learning must become a habit, and so demands careful cultivation. First, developing a learning habit requires you to articulate the outcomes you'd like to achieve. Would you like to reinvigorate your conversations and intellectual activity by reading a variety of new topics? Are you looking to master a specific subject?

Based on those choices, set realistic goals, such as reading a book per week or studying English for thirty minutes a day. With goals in hand, develop a learning community, such as book clubs and writing groups.

The benefits of bilingualism

According to CNN, learning a new language can rewire your brain and help stave off Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Ellen Bialystok, from York University in Toronto, Canada, found that bilinguals are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease four to five years later than their monolingual counterparts.

When it comes to the beneficial effects bilingualism has on the brain, education levels do not matter. In fact, the most profound effects were found in people who were illiterate and had no education. Bilingualism was their only real source of mental stimulation, and as they got older, it provided protection for their aging brains.

More experience with bilingualism leads to greater cognitive changes. The earlier you start being bilingual, and the more intense your bilingual experience is on a daily basis, the more changes happen in your brain.

A German dog learns English

An abandoned dog named Hector was left tied to the gates of an RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) branch in West Yorkshire, England. When trying to give commands to the dog, staff found that Hector was not reacting. Luckily for Hector, the staff decided to try other languages, and it turned out he knew several commands in German.

Care manager Lucynda Hodgson said they started to introduce him to English words. To help Hector understand them, the staff used hand signals together with verbal commands, and he picked them up really quickly. Lucynda added, "He's a very intelligent dog and is very loving." After about three months of polishing his English skills, Hector reacted perfectly to English commands.

Venture capital discrimination

Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator—the tech accelerator that supports early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship and financing—has funded a number of successful start-ups including Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit. Despite this, in 2013 he made a controversial comment about how he evaluates potential companies. He managed to both offend many foreign-born Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and reveal a prejudice common among venture capitalists.

“One quality that’s a really bad indication is a CEO with a strong foreign accent,” Graham told Inc. magazine. “I’m not sure why. It could be that there are a bunch of subtle things entrepreneurs have to communicate and [you] can’t [do that] if you have a strong accent. Or, it could be that anyone with half a brain would realize you’re going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven’t gotten rid of their strong accent.”

Practice English with cryptograms

Decoding cryptograms is a great way to sharpen your English. A cryptogram with a simple substitution code is fairly easy to decipher, but it forces you to think carefully about spelling and vocabulary. As your English improves, you can move on to harder codes, like ones that don't put spaces in between the words so you have to figure out yourself where one word ends and the next begins.

This simple code uses the English alphabet. Letters are swapped for letters:

Decode this sentence:  "B l f   x z m   g l g z o o b   w l   g s r h !"

Did you get it right? The answer is in the last discussion question.

Were you aware that you practiced English spelling, vocabulary, and colloquial expressions by decoding that saying?

20-year-old speaks 19 languages

At the age of 20, Montreal linguistics student Georges Awaad can already speak 19 different languages, most of which he taught himself through internet videos, music and conversation with friends. “I’m a very auditory person, so I try to expose myself as much as possible to the language, by listening to music, videos, films if I find them, and by listening to conversations and having them with friends,” he says.

He also speaks Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Russian, Hebrew, Romanian, Swedish, Georgian, Armenian, Cantonese, Korean, Esperanto, and Dutch. Despite his achievement, Awaad doesn’t believe he has any exceptional skills when it comes to learning languages. His secret, he says, is that he finds it fun.

 Awaad says that “learning a new language can open your mind and heart to so many other people around the world and new cultures. You can understand the world so much better and on a much deeper level."

Native English teachers needed

More and more elementary school teachers in Japan are turning to English language schools with native speakers, as they seek to gain confidence in teaching the language before it is formally added to their curricula in the academic year starting April 2020.

Many teachers admit to lacking confidence in their English, in areas from vocabulary to grammar, expressiveness and pronunciation. Elementary school teachers say they are afraid of teaching their students “the wrong thing.”

In 2011 Japan made English compulsory for fifth- and sixth-graders as part of their extra-curricular “foreign language activities.” Last year the guidelines were further revised to start English education from the third grade as part of foreign language teaching, and make English a formal subject from fifth grade, starting in 2020, in an effort to enhance the nation’s global competitiveness.