People used to think that learning two languages created confusion in the mind. Far better, it was thought, to get one right than bother with two. An even more extreme and absurd view was that learning two languages caused a kind of schizophrenia or dual personality. Some studies did seem to back up the idea that learning two languages could be problematic; early researchers noted that bilingual people tended to have smaller vocabularies and slower access to words. But these myths and minor disadvantages have now been overshadowed by a wave of new research showing the incredible psychological benefits of learning another language. And these extend way beyond being able to order a cup of coffee abroad or ask directions to your hotel.
Language centers in the brain actually grow as a result of successful language learning. The better you learn, the more those vital areas of the brain grow.
2. Stave off dementia
Bilingualism delays Alzheimer's disease in susceptible people by as much as five years (Craik et al., 2010). Seems incredible, but the studies are continuing to support this result. To put this in context: the effect on dementia of learning another language is much greater than anything achievable with the latest drugs.
3. Hear language better
Being bilingual can lead to improved listening skills since the brain has to work harder to distinguish different types of sounds in two or more languages.
4. Become more language sensitive
Infants in bilingual households can distinguish languages they've never even heard before (Werker & Sebastian-Galles, 2011). Just being exposed to the different sounds in, for example, Spanish and Catalan, helps them tell the difference between English and French.
5. Boost your memory
Babies brought up in a bilingual environment have stronger working memories than those brought up with only one language (Morales et al., 2013). This means they are better at mental calculation, reading and many other vital skills.
6. Better multitasking
Bilingual people can switch from one task to another more quickly. They show more cognitive flexibility and find it easier to adapt to unexpected circumstances.
7. Increased attention
Bilinguals have stronger control over their attention and are better able to limit distractions.
8. Double the activation
Cognitive boosts, like improved attention and better multitasking, may come because bilingual people have both languages activated at the same time, and must continually monitor which one is appropriate (Francis, 1999). All that switching back and forth confers the mental benefits.
9. New ways of seeing
Learning a new language can literally change the way you see the world. Learning Japanese, for example, which has basic terms for light and dark blue, may help you perceive the colour in different ways.
10. Improve your first language
Since learning a second language draws your attention to the abstract rules and structure of language, it can make you better at your first language. As Geoffrey Willans said: "You can never understand one language until you understand at least two."
11. Exploring other cultures
These ten are all quite apart from the benefits of immersing yourself in another culture, and of seeing your own culture from the perspective of another. All told, you may well get something like "a second soul" from learning another language.
If you've ever spent time searching online for language learning resources then there's a good chance you've already stumbled upon Rocket Languages
at some point. To describe it in its own words it's a recognized leader in online language learning and it's been around for quite some time (about a decade according to its about page). I recently had the chance to sample its Spanish version and despite my initial hesitation and frankly low expectations, I have to say that I was actually pretty impressed by its quality which I'm going to explain below. Although it does contain reading and writing lessons, its strength is definitely in speaking and listening, and the grammar is demonstrated rather than explained in great detail.
Rocket Languages currently has the following languages available: Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic (Egyptian), Italian, Hindi, German, French, Chinese (Mandarin), Sign Language (American) and English (for Spanish speakers). It sells at just under $100 for lifetime access. While I must say that I do like the simplicity of the Android app interface, the desktop interface is a bit more exciting to me. One of Rocket Language's best features is its comprehensive audio content which makes it even more important for everything to be easy and comfortable to navigate. There are several small, web-based games included with Rocket Languages which are rather easy, but when you don`t know a language it`s the way to get the simple basics embedded in your mind - at least for me.
The writing lessons have lots of potential but are not explanatory enough for new learners. In many of the lessons, the new words are given but you're not actually shown how to write them until the following lesson as a review. The videos demonstrating how to write letters, numbers, and words are actually quite good but there's not enough of them to justify calling them "writing lessons". If you're going to create writing lessons (especially for a language like Arabic), you should either do it properly and comprehensively or leave it alone and focus on the speaking and listening component (which Rocket does very well). Since competitors use technology that automatically matches the sound waves of your voice with the native speaker's voice giving you a correct or incorrect response, Rocket would do well to implement a similar feature rather than expecting learners to do it themselves. This is just an idea that`d be helpful to someone learning the language. Aiming to correct your pronunciation by having a piece of software tell you if you're right or wrong is definitely not a natural way to improve your pronunciation. In the case of Rocket Languages, matching up an image of sound waves don't do much at all to improve your speaking skills. It's not going to hurt using it of course but I don't see a whole lot of value in it personally.
I was genuinely impressed by the overall comprehensiveness and quality of the audio and dialogue content for the Spanish version I sampled. Firstly, the very fact that it teaches a spoken dialect rather than standard dialect puts it miles ahead of Rosetta Stone. The content really does present the spoken language as it's naturally used. It covers a wide range of topics beginning with the absolute basics and leading up to discussions that are actually quite advanced in level and unique for a course of its type (e.g. in addition to basic content like simple greetings, there are dialogues on relationships, sport, literature, and lots of other topics relevant to the country - all with accompanying audio by native speakers). It consists of two sections: Interactive Audio which is where you'll find lots of quality dialogue material and Language and Culture which is full of grammar and detailed cultural notes. The dialogues and lessons are presented in a humorous and interesting way too and unlike Rocket's competitors, they don't use a cookie cutter approach (in other words the content is unique to each language version). The person who's presenting the content in English actually engages with and comments on the content which I think is fantastic. For the audio content and its comprehensiveness I would say that the price is justifiable. On this point alone I'd recommend the product to anyone.
Members have access to a learners forum for the specified language as well as a general forum for everyone. This is a good feature to have since it allows people to ask for clarification and engage with one another. Questions regarding various aspects of the grammar and expressions not found in the course content for example are asked and answered. The forums appear to be actively moderated by native speakers although it is unclear how often they check in. While not innovative and a fairly common feature in other products, it's nice to see that Rocket has incorporated a scheduler and points system to keep people motivated. The scheduler is there to encourage study streaks and the points help you to move up a leader board and compete against other learners.
Since the Rocket content is so comprehensive, it also makes sense to have a good search tool to find exactly what you're looking for. It seems to work well and the results come back with all sentences containing the word or expression in the search query. You're not restricted to online access with the Rocket content. This is actually a great selling point since every bit of content on the site is downloadable and able to be used offline. The MP3 audio is ideal for listening during commutes and the PDF's are easily printable. Competitors are often limited to use in the application or online so itâ€™s nice that Rocket gives you complete access to the content you paid for. While I can't comment on the specifics of all language versions, Rocket Languages is definitely a quality product I'd recommend because of the comprehensiveness of its content and the quality of its dialogues.