Layers of Language and Learning

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The global pandemic has changed life as we know it – from how we shop and where we work, to where we can go and who we can meet, and the result of the ongoing restrictions is that many of us have more time on our hands and far less to do with it.

For some, this excess of spare time has prompted them to re-engage with an old hobby, others to pick up a new one, and when it comes to practical hobbies, trying your hand at a new language is ultimate lockdown learning goals.

Most people growing up in Scotland and the UK learnt French or German at school and in France, English and Spanish are most taught. The world over English and Spanish continue to dominate, right through from culture to commerce, and in this post pandemic world, the ease with which we can communicate via the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other digital platforms, means these dominant languages aren’t going anywhere.

However, this dominance by no means limits the options of those starting out on their language learning journey, and the choice of which language to choose can actually be quite overwhelming. Online language learning platform Duolingo has over 300 million users worldwide and currently offers 106 different language courses in 38 languages. An American language-learning website and mobile app, it is free to use (although it does offer a premium service for a fee) and provides a digital language proficiency assessment exam, meaning users are able to monitor their progress as they go.

Like many other language learning providers/facilitators, Duolingo believes that by learning a new language we open our minds to new ideas and cultures and that to truly understand a country and its people you need to hear, speak and understand the nuances of dialect and cultural reference. It is for this reason that native speakers of some of the world’s most endangered languages have chosen Duolingo as the platform upon which to launch language learning courses of their own, as it gives them the flexibility to teach it in a way that is true to the historical, political, social and cultural context of said language.

Because the fact remains, dominant languages have emerged for a reason, as Oscar Schwartz says in this Guardian article: “…languages do not become endangered peacefully, and the diminution of native speakers is often embedded in histories of colonialism and suppression. For many communities who speak their tongue within a dominant culture, linguistic education is thus tied up with political resistance.”

So, before you decide to continue your language learning journey with a language you perhaps learnt at school, embracing a more dominant, standardized language, we could consider the perspectives of foraying into the world of a lesser-known language, one perhaps more intrinsically and currently linked to stories of social and political struggle and endeavor.