We live in an age of “being connected”. The number of smartphone users connected to the internet is expected to reach 6.1 Billion in the next 5 years. By this point in time, around 70% of the world’s population will have access to the internet (and the vast majority of human knowledge) in their pocket.
This constant connection is incredibly useful. From buying groceries, looking up a quick fact, getting directions, or speaking to someone on the other side of the world, this connectedness is convenient.
The convenience of online solutions to life’s problems necessarily touch language learning as well. Learning a language on your own can be a rewarding hobby, and there are plenty of tools to help you along. From learning vocabulary on Memrise to watching video lessons on Youtube, to using Anki flashcards and reading blogs about language education, the internet is a great place to find resources. Even italki has advice for how to move your language learning forward by yourself.
Unfortunately, there is often a temptation to limit one’s education to just these solitary activities. It is understandable why: we like activities in which we can easily see our progress. Memorizing a hundred words using flashcards is a rewarding activity. It creates the experience of progress. The experience of memorization gives us immediate feedback, and because of this it is easy to get caught-up in the exercises, and forget that language is inherently a social activity. In fact, there are theories of language development that explain the evolution of language as a way to expand our social groups. (This theory also thinks of language as a form of grooming, as seen ape societies.)
Though it is possible, and often makes sense to practice individual language skills alone (for example, building up vocabulary), it is through integration of these individual skills that we get the practice which will help us approach fluency.
Moreover, the rewards of learning are not the numbers of memorized words or the efficiency with which you construct sentences. The fundamental reward of speaking a foreign language is gaining perspective, understanding someone from a different culture and world, and being understood by them. Experiencing the social rewards of the work you are doing by learning a foreign language will encourage you to keep going. That magical moment of understanding and being understood makes the process of studying and practicing worthwhile.
As we enter the holiday season, a time many countries and societies celebrate togetherness, family, and connection to their communities, we hope you take the opportunity to practice your language skills, and share your excitement about learning languages with those close to you, perhaps even by speaking to them in their own languages! Don’t get lost in solo practice, but reward yourself and connect with others by sharing the wonder and excitement of language learning.