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This Year I Resolve To Learn... My 16th Language

Along with his twin brother, Matthew, Michael Youlden has learned over a dozen languages since the age of eight. So when it comes to making a resolution to learn a language – and how to stick to it – you might want to take his advice.

A brand new year brings fresh ideas and a newfound momentum. Whether it’s saving up for the trip of a lifetime, finally unpacking those boxes and arranging the spare room, or having a proper crack at Italian, there is no better time than the first of January to decide what 2016 will hold in store for you. I’ve decided to start learning Cornish and Bengali, and will continue studying the languages I am currently learning (Hungarian and Albanian). After New Year’s Day, I’m looking forward to diving into the first of two books I already have on Cornish: Kernewek mar plek! (which translates as “Cornish, please!”), plus a German book on Bengali titled, “Lehrbuch des Bengalischen.”

Set milestones

Of course, as with any resolution, this does not necessarily mean that you have to start in January, but I do think that starting at the beginning of a new year offers a certain psychological advantage. Setting such a milestone affords you the opportunity to measure your progress; by the end of March I aim to be at the end of chapter twenty of Kernewek mar plek, so I hope to steam through an average of just under seven chapters per month.

Block out time

Of course, new year’s resolutions are infamous for being rarely fulfilled; discarded and forgotten after a few weeks of wavering dedication or repressed as sources of niggling shame. We’ve all been there. However, even if I may not have set myself specific resolutions in January in the past, I do find it is absolutely indispensable to chart oneself an outline, however vague. So get the planner out – that one found at the bottom of your stocking – and start pencilling in times of the day when you are most likely to have time to study. Stay focused on the task at hand and be reasonable with your goals: don’t allocate two hours to Spanish on a Wednesday evening when you know you could only do half an hour at the very most. The secret to success is studying in short but effective sessions, and studying regularly.

A resolution doesn’t need to be an obligation

Many of you will have already determined your resolutions, and I’m sure many of you will have resolved to learn a language. Others may be wondering which language to learn: you’ll hear people say, “you should really learn Chinese because you’ll have a job for life,” or, “learn Spanish because it’s spoken literally everywhere nowadays,” but in my opinion there is no particular language that you should be learning. I choose my languages almost entirely out of interest and curiosity: Cornish bears similarities to Irish Gaelic, one of my native languages, and along with Breton it constitutes a language that has fascinated me for quite some time. Like Irish, it also happens to be a very old language, and over the past years it has witnessed a welcome revival. They say that the last native speaker died at the end of the 18th century, but the language has lived on in various shapes and forms. Watching various clips from the Cornish Oafs, two young men who teach Cornish on Youtube, has whet my appetite for more Kernewek. As for Bengali, while it’s an Indo-European language, it will be the first one that I know besides Hebrew that is spoken outside of Europe. This means learning an entirely new writing script (the sixth most widely used in the world). I have always wanted to venture from the confines of European languages, and, after watching a documentary about Bangladesh, decided that there is no time like the present.

Use tools that suit you

The internet has become an amazing resource for language learners: online dictionaries, video tutorials, forums and fully-fledged courses have made it easier than ever to start learning any language you wish. Interactive self-guided language learning has advanced in leaps and bounds since the days when my brother and I were teaching ourselves Portuguese. So, the books are waiting to be opened and the CD player is raring to go. The tech-savvy and app-obsessed will be happy to know that there are more interactive tools available than ever before for those resolving to learn a language. No matter the method you choose, use the tips above to help you stick to your goals. Roll on 2016!

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