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Learning a language over the summer

If you or one of your kids would like to learn a language – or brush up one you already know – the summer months are a great time to take action. Many people have a little bit more spare time in July and August, and because of the school holidays there will be plenty of tutors available to help you with your studies.

Whether you’re visiting a foreign country on holiday or you’d just like a new challenge, learning a language can be a very rewarding experience. Below is an overview of the most popular options:

  • French is still the most popular modern language for Brits, probably because most of us acquired at least a smattering of it at school. As languages go, it is relatively easy, with quite a small vocabulary and a fairly regular grammar. The big challenge is mastering the accent and the pronunciation of words – for some reason, native English speakers find both difficult. One of the secrets of success is to physically move your mouth more than you do when you’re speaking English.
  • German is a bit trickier than French, because the grammar is more strict and the word order is often very different from what we’re used to in English. That said, modern German is similar to English in many ways (both are “Germanic” languages), and most English-speakers find German pronunciation relatively easy.
  • Spanish and Italian, like French, are Romance languages – basically, modern versions of Latin. The two are quite similar to each other, and are sometimes mutually intelligible if spoken slowly. Most people find them easier to learn than French, with Spanish probably the easiest European language if you want to develop conversational ability quickly. One word of warning: the Italians seem to have a real problem understanding foreigners who try to speak their language – it really pays to work on the accent! If you’re seeking to learn for business or employment reasons, Spanish can be a surprisingly good choice – along with English, Mandarin and Arabic it’s one of the world’s most widespread languages, used by half a billion native speakers globally.
  • Russian – now we’re getting more adventurous! Russian is a Slavic language, and very different from Romance (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian) and Germanic (English, German, Dutch) tongues. It has a complex grammar and a different alphabet from western European languages (Cyrillic rather than Roman). On the upside, it is very similar to other Slavic languages, so if you get on well with Russian you’ll find Roman-alphabet eastern European languages (e.g., Polish) pretty straightforward. Russian is also a good language to learn if you’re interested in beefing up your CV – many UK businesses work with Russia, and there is a shortage of speakers over here.
  • If you want a real challenge, Mandarin Chinese could be an interesting option – though don’t expect to grasp it right away! Mandarin is the most important Chinese dialect. It is written using a pictogram system that is completely unlike western alphabets, though when you’re learning you can use a system that converts Chinese sounds into western characters. Another interesting feature of Mandarin is the way tone is so important – a word’s meaning can change completely depending on how you say it. Again, Mandarin will look very impressive on your CV!
  • Welsh is a fun option if you want something a little closer to home, if you are making a move to Wales, or you holiday there regularly. The extent to which Welsh is spoken and used often surprises English visitors. This is especially true in North Wales, where there are plenty of people for whom English is very much a second language. The pronunciation is nowhere near as difficult as you might think, and it’s actually quite a straightforward language to learn. However, it’s worth knowing that Welsh dialects are quite different from one another: although it’s possible to learn a single, formal language (“International Welsh” is the tongue-in-cheek expression), you need to be aware of the differences between North Walian and South Walian versions of the language.
  • If you have an academic streak, it’s worth looking at Latin. You won’t get much chance to speak it (unless you go on holiday to the Vatican…), but learning to read Latin offers huge benefits. For a start, it opens up all of Latin literature – 2000 years’ worth of some of the greatest histories, biographies and poetry ever written. In more practical terms, learning Latin is the single best way of learning about language; it’ll help with learning French, Italian and Spanish (which are really just modern dialects of Latin), and if you have a good grasp of Latin, you’ll rarely write an ungrammatical English sentence. Moreover, it’s a ruthlessly logical language that teaches you to think in a clear, structured way. If you have an ambitious and intelligent child, a bit of Latin can make a big difference to his or her prospects – the subject is shamefully neglected in state schools, but recognised by universities, and even by many employers, as the mark of an academic high-flyer.

If live in the Manchester area and you want some help developing language skills, get in touch with 121 Home Tutors today. We can offer personal tuition in a range of languages, and we’ll be more than happy to help you out.

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