Learning a Language in Lockdown


Are you interested in learning another language, or eagerly anticipating a year abroad? Well, the Talking in Tandem column is perfect for any language lover, linguist, and learner.


You’ve been in lockdown for as long as you can remember, the days are starting to look frightfully similar and you’re losing the will to get out of bed every morning. Learning a language might seem redundant when you can’t even leave the country, but there are many great benefits that come with it. Not only will learning a language enrich your everyday life , but the lives of others around you as well. Lockdown is definitely a brilliant time to learn a language, so consider seizing the moment and discover the ways which it may improve your life.


It goes without saying that speaking a second language makes you stand out from the crowd. While English is a very widely spoken language, being able to communicate with people from other backgrounds is undoubtedly an employable and sought-after skill. The Guardian reported as far back as 2010 that a second language could potentially add up to 15%  to your salary. Whether you want to work for a multinational company or just want to earn more, learning a language can certainly transform career prospects and bring you one step ahead of your peers. 

Improve your memory

Do you ever walk into a room and forget why you’re there? Maybe language learning can help with that! It is a widely held belief in the scientific community that there is no limit to the storage of the human brain, but our minds work better and for longer when we actively engage them. A study in the scientific journal Frontiers of Psychiatry claims that bilingualism improves your brain’s ability to resist damage. There’s even evidence that learning another language can help your brain prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Research UK have reported that bilingualism can increase your “cognitive reserve”, therefore preventing deterioration of memory.  If you find yourself at a loss with your memory, try picking up a new language. 

Become better at learning

Once you’ve taken the plunge into the world of foreign languages, you might find yourself being able to recognise the odd word or two in another language. This is because some languages have similar roots in history; English speakers might find it easier to learn German than Mandarin. This is because English and German are both Germanic languages and therefore have some of the same origins. Spotting similar words in other languages is not only gratifying but thought-provoking. Once you’ve gotten to grips with one language, it can make it ten times easier to learn another!

Increase cultural awareness

Cultural awareness is often a prerequisite in job applications, but what exactly is it? Cultural awareness is having a sensitivity to the differences between cultures and your ability to effectively communicate with members of different cultures. Language learning is a brilliant way to develop this skill, as learning how different cultures internally communicate can set you apart from other monolingual candidates. Cultural awareness helps us to avoid poor decisions that are perhaps ill-informed. Encouraging more insightful and responsible decisions requires cultural awareness and this is vital to any organisation or business. Experiencing a foreign culture can open our eyes to different ways of life and mindsets, so having a broad understanding of several cultures is a very employable trait.

Make new friends

Eventually, we will be able to go out to bars and restaurants and socialise again. When that day does come, there will also be the opportunity to travel abroad. Learning a language requires communicating with other people and while we can always do this online, it’s definitely more effective in person. There are millions of people on social media and thousands who are willing to help with learning their language. There are lots of people online who are looking for people with whom they can practice speaking English and so it’s worth looking for someone who speaks the language you want to learn in order to practice. There are many sites which require a payment for such a matching service, so it might be better to try social media first, as long as you’re safe and keep personal information private.

Avoid stressful situations abroad

The best feeling in the world is walking out of an airplane and feeling the heat hit your face. In contrast, the worst feeling is losing your suitcase in a foreign country and not knowing how to communicate. Being able to communicate effectively in a foreign country may result in being designated the “family translator”, but this can also be valuable practice. Being able to speak the common tongue in your desired holiday destination can help you avoid buckets of unnecessary stress. If you are someone who worries about the littlest things, learning a language can help put your mind at ease on holiday, and keep your mind busy too!

Gain insights into your own language

We learned about adverbs and prepositions a long time ago, but do you still remember what they are? If you haven’t studied English in a while, perhaps the answer is no. When we learn a new language, we have to learn about the fundamental concepts of language in order to get our heads around the process. Learning languages helped me to see how my own language is constructed, and even helped me to improve my use of it. Being able to deconstruct a sentence down to its most basic components can help us to construct new sentences to a higher quality. That could be a great skill to have when it comes to writing essays, where sentence structure and quality can make or break an essay.

Encourage diversity 

Every time humanity seems to take two steps forward, we end up taking one step back in terms of diversity. Learning new languages and cultures helps us see our world from different perspectives. With language class enrolment in the UK at an all time low, it does not come as a surprise that racism seems to be a prevalent problem in our country. Encouraging diversity is a characteristic of a high functioning society, one that recognises its need for foreign labour and trade. Help destroy the English monolingual stereotype!

I am sure that you’re sick of the word “unprecedented” these days, so why not learn how to say it in Spanish? If you find yourself with bags of time like the majority of us right now, then learning a second language is a fantastic use of your free time. 


Our local languages expert Emily Maclean is a French and Hispanic Studies student here at QMUL, and having done her year abroad, she has a lot of experience to share!


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