Flour flies off shelves to meet the quaranbaking demands, social media news feeds become the go-to place to doomscroll, creative projects ensue as part of our coronacation, all as we adjust with what some deem the coronapocalypse.
Nearly every aspect of our lives has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and has adapted to the current reality. Human languages are no exception.
The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a new lexicon of vocabulary across several world languages. In parallel, it has inspired individuals to return to language learning goals, as evidenced by DuoLingo’s spike in usage during the lockdown. These collective experiences speak to the humanity that language carries.
Before the pandemic, it was certainly the case that different languages had words unique to their language. For example, German has “Fernweh”, which means a feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never visited. Although there are overlaps in new words developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (English’s “covidiot” vs. Spanish’s “covidiota”), it is still fascinating to consider that common experiences have coined words unique to certain languages at this time. For example, the Dutch have invented “hestschaamte” which means cough shaming, while seeing words like “hamsteren” (to hoard like a hamster) resurface as people stock up on toilet paper and goods. The Spanish have invented “infoxicado”, a spin-off of “intoxicado” (intoxicated) to describe how people may feel after too much exposure to the news. In France, L’Académie Française, the official guardian of the French language, urged people to stop the usage of “Le covid”, insisting that the “la” represented the true gender of the word. These words invite us to compare and contrast the way different cultures think and by extension, encourage us to further develop cultural and intellectual curiosity.
At the same time, it is interesting to see the reported rises in DuoLingo language learning. In a time where driving and social events have been minimized, free time―for some―has been maximized. And, foreign language learning, among yoga on Zoom and breadmaking reigns as some of the top pursued hobbies.
Perhaps what is most fascinating about language learning at this time is that not only are we more physically distant from each other, but also the fact that foreign language is often something obligatory in high school. It is a course with true value to complement a variety of professional careers, yet it is usually a “to-do” item on the list of differentiators for university acceptance. It is also something like math in that it is often perceived to be of little value, as it seems to be abstractions that are taught isolated from the “real world.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way; any subject, in theory, can be tailored to a student’s interest and motivations. World language learning is a quintessential example of this idea, and it shares another parallel with math: it may be intimidating, but it can be “broken down” to build a strong foundation. Moreover, its mastery―like anything requiring sincere effort―is worth pursuing for reasons well beyond university foreign language requirements.
It’s no secret that learning a language can be a quest of memorization and “word math” as a former student of mine described. However, it is probably less considered that learning a language can keep our brains sharp, enhance decision-making skills, bolster our attention-span and improve our understanding of our native language according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. These cognitive benefits can translate to success in other areas, such as standardized testing, reading comprehension and higher academic achievement in university, the ACFL posits.
As compelling as the cerebral benefits are, language learning renders other “real world” benefits. Knowing a second language can build self-confidence, widen your social network, enhance traveling, foster creativity, and keep you informed in an increasingly global society. It can also develop cultural humility, which can enhance empathy and promote tolerance. Moreover, it is a skill that can complement and advance a variety of careers.
I will admit that I am probably a bit biased, but I know I am not the only person who has experienced the benefits language learning confers at home and abroad. Imagine if everyone learned at least one language in addition to maintaining their native tongue. Maybe now, as we live on the Internet together apart, is the ideal time to pursue this hobby. Afterall, the mental exercise can be a great distraction from further doomscrolling. Plus, language learning is a scholarly way of distant socializing.
Give us a call if you’d like to discuss how we can help your student build language skills!