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There’s a good reason why universities are crammed full of so many societies, we’ve all got to have a hobby or two to distract us from lectures and course work. Walking round Fresher’s fair you realise that you can join up to some pretty unusual things. There aren’t many places other than a university campus where it would be quite so easy to take up things like circus skills or belly dancing on a whim. But one activity that often gets overlooked when people are shopping around for hobbies is learning a new language.
Now I know at first glance it doesn’t look like it would be very relaxing or any fun at all. All I did in 5 years of school French classes was learn a long list of phrases about ‘where I go on my holidays’. I’ll spare you my long and well-practiced rant about why this is a stupidly ineffective way of teaching languages. The point is that unless you happened to meet a French person with an unhealthy interest in your travel plans then you aren’t likely to have much to say to them. When you’re teaching yourself you can start by simply learning to say ‘hello, how are you?’ Learning a language as a hobby frees you from all the boring stuff you would have to do, since no one is going to make you take an exam at the end.
One of the things I love most about language learning is that pretty much anything can be a learning opportunity. Binge-watching Netflix? See if it has subtitles in another language. On Twitter? Follow some people who tweet in your target language. Plus it can open up whole new worlds of music and films that you never would have come across otherwise. It’s a far cry from having to memorise grammar tables.
There are so many ways on campus to meet people to practice speaking with. The Culture Society run language classes. There are also ‘Language Cafes’ where you can go and practice your speaking skills in a relaxed environment. It’s a great way to meet and get to know people you might never cross paths with otherwise. You don’t have to aim for perfect fluency, even just spending a few minutes a day on an app like Duolingo can go a surprisingly long way.
Plus, while you’re sat listening to Arabic music or watching French TV, your brain will be reaping a whole load of cognitive benefits. In one study York University in Toronto found that people who studied another language tended to score higher on standardised maths, reading, and vocabulary tests. It’s also been demonstrated that multilingual people are better at paying attention when having to multitask. According to Dr. Thomas Bak of Edinburgh University that is also the reason why multilingual people also tend to show slower decline in cognitive abilities as they get older. Some research has even claimed that language learning builds up the brain’s grey matter similar to how exercising builds up muscle!
So if you’re stuck for something to do in the evening or you can find a spare hour between lectures there’s a lot that can be said for learning the basics of a new language. Who knows where it might lead…