When lockdown hit, it was a little hard to process. Some people were furloughed and faced a waiting game for the world to restart; others had to adjust to working from home, perhaps with the distractions of entertaining and teaching children; and many people had to keep going to work while relying on essential support from schools and carers.
Every experience presented different challenges, but perhaps the most unusual to adapt to was being placed on furlough, especially for people who had no childcare or caring responsibilities. While life may have seemed easier on the surface (hours to watch Netflix and relax? Sounds great!), it exposed a yawning chasm of time that may have become difficult to fill. It turns out there really is such a thing as too much TV.
Filling that time in creative ways became the 2020 challenge – suddenly we were all becoming experts at making the perfect cake or loaf of sourdough bread (before all the flour sold out, at least). But many people turned (or returned) to learning a language, finding that they finally had the time to not only complete the lessons, but also to practise, practise, practise. And this period of cultural reset gave people the space to absorb their learning more deeply while the world slowed down around them.
Now that the world has sped back up again, albeit in quite a different version of normal life, the challenge is to hold onto the outcomes of the language-learning progress. In this article, the second in our ‘Life after Lockdown’ series, we highlight some of the many benefits that come with learning a second language.
Deepening professional relationships and widening your world view
As we began to explore in the first article in this series (on advancing your career with your new-found language skills), there are many ways in which learning a second (or third, or fourth) language can create opportunities for developing your career.
A new language may deepen your value to your current employer, for example by creating a new in-road to future territories (without relying on translators or third parties). If you can hold direct conversations with people in a wider, more global professional network, then you increase the chances of building meaningful and long-lasting relationships with your clients – the kinds of relationships that foster loyalty and good will.
Trust and reliability are qualities that supersede the ‘cheapest deal’ time and time again because they are often accompanied by transparency, flexibility and a commitment to fairness. In a time when face-to-face meetings may be off the cards for a while, being able to rely on a trusted connection is likely to be a major factor when making confident business decisions.
The maxim that ‘nice people finish last’ may not hold as much water as it once did, especially in this online era. Building relationships, being kind and understanding in these difficult times, and forging long-term connections may become pivotal to future success in business, and learning a new language to help you cross language and cultural divides could be the key piece of the puzzle for solving the professional challenges of the future.
Improving personal connections and optimising physical health
While some people may be facing potential restructures or redundancy – or even looking to reframe their career path – not everyone is looking at changing their professional situation right now. If you are fortunate enough to be content with your current role, and you are not at any perceived risk of losing your job, learning a language in lockdown may have been something you tackled for personal gain.
Perhaps learning a language was a lifeline to a future time when a holiday feels safe, easy and achievable to enjoy again, without quarantine anxieties or additional travel stresses. Or maybe you have friends or relatives overseas and so decided to set yourself the challenge of being able to chat to them in their mother tongue while on Zoom or Skype.
An interesting side-effect of lockdown appears to be that second languages are being used more frequently by children in bilingual homes who have spent extra time with close family. In practice, this means that the languages of parents and grandparents are becoming part of daily life again for many children, as seen in immigrant communities in the United States.
Second languages provide a route to a deeper connection to friends and family, but they also offer personal benefits that go beyond relationships. Learning a second language can improve later-life cognition, delay the onset of dementia, and increase brain health due to the resulting greater volume of grey matter (and greater integrity of white matter). These outcomes are created in part by the complexity of balancing two languages in the mind and switching between them as and when required. It is a mental workout – one that has lifelong benefits for bilingual and multilingual people. It is also a great reason to encourage a second language in your home environment, because it will provide your children with these benefits as they grow up.
Keeping the momentum going
Life is becoming a little more normal, but that is no reason to scale back on your language learning. If you were making excellent progress earlier in the year, now is the time to reinforce your learning by boosting your vocabulary and filling in any gaps to help you hold a fluent conversation. After all, regular practice helps you retain your learning.
And if you spent April perfecting your baking skills instead, maybe your autumn challenge could be to start learning a language and seeing the benefits for yourself.
The months ahead offer a different kind of uncertainty to the lockdown period, because there are still so many unknowns. Local lockdowns are still in place around the country, and the second wave of the virus may require a second national lockdown. However, lockdown brought with it many benefits, including a new way of looking at life and the time to learn new things. Whatever the months ahead bring, they also hold the opportunity for personal and professional growth, and learning a language could be central to that journey.
If learning a second language is high on your to-do list, or you would like to explore different forms of language training for you or your organisation, we would love to hear from you. Contact us for more information about how our team can support your language-learning needs.