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Posted Aug. 14, 2013

Study a language along with your postgrad degree

You might think that studying a language during your postgraduate degree is not the best idea, hopefully this article will make you change your mind.

Why now?

Your degree comes first, nothing taken alongside your degree should detract your attention from your main focus. On which note, this blog entry has some great advice about creating good study habits. Despite not wanting to be distracted, this is actually the perfect time to be taking on an extra subject because your daily schedule is already geared around learning, what's one more lecture? Having a small but productive distraction can be very useful. When you're at school and you have lots of different homework assignments, you always do the short ones first. Having extra language learning tasks works in the same way and by doing a little bit of work before starting on, say, your dissertation, it helps to focus your brain and put you in an academic frame of mind. Similarly, if you need a break from essay writing, you can watch a little bit of the news in French, or German or revise your Japanese characters, instead of checking your Facebook or playing a game on your computer. In this way your brain remains engaged but is allowed to wander to another topic.

Which Language?

If you're going to be learning a language, which one should you choose? French and German are the traditional choices in schools and if you already have a basic knowledge of these then you might find picking it up again to be a little bit easier. Similarly, Spanish is becoming more popular in schools and it's not far to go if you want to practice your language skills in warmer climes. What about those languages that no one else is really studying though, the languages of the emerging markets? Chinese is an obvious choice, but Mandarin or Cantonese? Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong and the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces and is the more common Chinese language among overseas communities. However, Mandarin is the official language used all over China and in Taiwan, including the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces and when Hong Kong was released from British rule they began to teach in Mandarin instead. Both languages use the same written characters and as Mandarin is more widely spoken, you are more likely to be understood in more places. It is also said that Cantonese is more difficult for beginners as there are more tones to learn.

What about the other major place for businesses - the Middle East? Now that their economy is fairly stable, many Middle Eastern countries are looking to build up their 'culture'. In particular by buying very expensive art works and building state of the art museums. Arabic is challenging, as is learning any language with a different alphabet and a linguistic construction which does not come from a Latinate base. That is not to say that French, Italian and other European languages are easy, only that we do have words and grammatical constructions in common, so we already understand the building blocks. This puts many people off learning languages of those more far-flung countries but with transport as it is today, nothing is really so far-flung anymore and you'd be doing yourself a big favour. You've already decided on a postgraduate degree, so you must enjoy a challenge.

Any other benefits?

Of course. How about the fact that you get to meet more people? All the people studying your course are bound to be lovely, but it's nice to meet some different people too. Your university probably has societies and clubs related to the language you've chosen as well, so you can concentrate your extra-curricular activities on being productive too! You'll find some good advice about joining societies here .

There really is no time like the present!

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