On this very day, a decade ago, I was sat in my bedroom reading the dictionary.
I can’t say that with complete certainty but it’s more likely than not. It’s how I spent almost every evening as a fourteen year old. What kind of a teenage girl spends her free time reading the dictionary? The answer is simple – the kind of girl that feels like nobody can understand her.
I don’t mean that in an angsty, me-against-the-world kind of way. I mean that literally. Just before my fourteenth birthday my family moved to Vienna, away from the safety of our home in the Czech Republic. Away from the safety of the only language I was fluent in.
I’d found expressing my emotions in my mother tongue difficult enough. What teenager doesn’t? Being forced to come to grips with the brave new world around me in a language I barely spoke felt downright cruel.
That language was English… and look at me now! I’ve caught the beast, tamed it and now it does fancy tricks for me at the drop of a hat. English isn’t my only show pony either. I speak five languages – English and Czech, as well as German, Russian and French.
When I was younger I collected vocabulary the way other people collect stamps. I would hear a new word and feel an immediate need to possess it. It was an unquenchable thirst and the more I learned the more I wanted.
Getting back to learning
But then something happened. It wasn’t a dramatic realisation, just a gradual shift. Rather than becoming wiser I was growing more complacent with every year. All that learning was replaced with an attitude of “I’m too busy for any of this!”. Instead of reading the dictionary I would sit in my bedroom and blankly stare at my laptop screen, barely noticing where one Netflix episode ended and the next began.
What I’m describing sounds depressing. But based on conversations I’ve had with friends it’s also how most young adults live their lives. After a stressful day at work who can blame us for wanting to decompress? Nobody, that’s who.
My recent travels around Africa have resulted in a few epiphanies though. All those mind-numbing activities, like binge watching series or going for cocktails, never end in me feeling relaxed. It feels good in the short run but looking back on a weekend spent that way I can’t help but regret all the time I wasted.
Over the past few months I’ve tried replacing all that white noise with things that help me grow. Nothing too strenuous – a dip in Lake Malawi in the morning, an afternoon spent volunteering or half an hour of language learning whenever I found the time. And you know what? Those tiny adjustments have made a massive difference in my mindset.
According to studies people tend to misunderstand confidence. It isn’t something you have that determines how successful you’re going to be. Rather it’s a reflection of past performance. So starting your day or week off on a productive note will set you up for success and vice versa.
What I’m trying to say is: I want you to join me in putting down the remote and picking up a new skill instead. I’m struggling to describe how much better it feels because it’s something you have to experience for yourself to truly appreciate it.
I’ve not been shy about brandishing my multilingualism, but me being a hopeless show off is only a part of the equation. The main reason I bring it up is a hope that I’ll inspire others not to give up on languages because of a bad high school experience.
I get it, my French professor wasn’t exactly a delight either – more like nightmare fodder. But am I going to let her rob me of the joy that comes with speaking another language? Mais non, ma chérie. Of course not.
The benefits of becoming bilingual cannot be overstated. Aside from helping you become more self-confident it also boosts your creativity and offers a new way of looking at the world. In some cases this is quite literal. Take Russian for example, a language with no word for the colour blue. Something can either be described as light blue (goluboi) or dark blue (sinii), but there’s no in between. That literally forces you to see the world in a different light.
But it doesn’t stop there. According to studies bilingualism can stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia, which basically makes it a superpower. And on a less serious but no less important note, speaking a foreign language will take your travels to a whole new level.
I’ll never forget haggling over the price of a floral dress at a market in Beijing. “Tài guì le, tài guì le,” I repeated as the shopkeeper laughed. Too expensive. “Piàoliang,” I added before shrugging and turning to walk away. It’s beautiful. I don’t even count Mandarin among my five languages because my knowledge of it is so basic. But even with that bare minimum I was able to have a short exchange, entertain a local and bag a beautiful gown for a fraction of your standard tourist price.
That’s just scratching the surface though. Really sinking your teeth into a language and being able to have a proper conversation is extremely rewarding. To get experience that wonderful feeling again I’ve decided to add a new language to my arsenal – Spanish.
How to get started
If you’re a traveller like me or just somebody with a busy schedule, committing to a language class may not be a viable option. That’s where my more recent efforts to pick up a new language tanked. In my final year of university I went to the trouble of signing up for a Mandarin class and putting down a non-refundable deposit before realising it was virtually impossible for me to do that, run my blog, work a part-time job, finish my degree and get more than four hours of sleep every night.
Enter Rosetta Stone and their language learning app, which I discovered right before going on my African adventure. They have more than twenty languages ranging from English, Spanish and German to slightly offbeat choices like Hindi, Tagalog or Farsi.
You can download all your lessons offline which means you can learn from virtually anywhere. Over the past few months I’ve really proven that to myself. From a propeller plane in Tanzania to a minibus in Ethiopia, a snazzy hotel overlooking a lake to a $8/night guesthouse, I’ve done little bits of Spanish in the most unexpected locations.
Despite having a busier schedule than I’d had in years I still managed to complete a surprising number of units. If I had to sit down with a notepad and a textbook I would have reasoned my way out of it. But being able to only spend a few minutes on the app at a time made me reach for it every time I felt a little bored.
I was a little apprehensive about using an app because I’m so used to the old school textbook-and-blackboard approach. But you know what? It won me over in a matter of minutes. Rosetta Stone’s teaching approach mimics how we learn as children. Rather than explaining things to us in another language, it uses a mix of verbal and visual cues to explain what things are.
You can watch the video above to see it in practice. But better yet, download the app yourself! You can try it out completely for free and if you fall in love with it I have great news. I have a discount code that will give you 50% off the total price. All you have to do is use my code which is “Sabina50”.
What do you think? You’ve got nothing to lose, so why not join me on this little adventure and marvel at the things your brain can accomplish!
Have you ever used a language learning app? What do you think of Rosetta Stone’s approach? Let me know in a comment below, I’d love to hear your take on this!
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Rosetta Stone. As always all opinions are my own and I’m genuinely loving the app. It’s, as we say in Spanish, absolutamente maravilloso.