Learning a language is so difficult – sometimes a decades-long process. However, linguistics, which is the study of all human languages and how they are alike and different, can help tremendously.
In a nutshell, it is important to know linguistics because it helps you to understand the process better, which can reduce a lot of stress and confusion.
Here are ten ways that learning linguistics before learning a language can greatly help you:
1) Knowing the structure of a language can help you learn vocabulary and grammar
Linguists provide a structured view of how languages work. For example, an English speaker would always think that an adjective comes before and describes a noun, but in some languages like Japanese and Korean, adjectives precede the nouns and follow/apply to them.
Knowing these kinds of things can help you learn structural aspects of a language much faster than if you try to learn it only by talking to people or reading textbooks.
2) Understanding the overall structure of a language helps with learning pronunciation
The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a great tool for learning how to say things correctly, but knowing the structure of your target language first will give you an easier start.
For example, if a person learning English knows what syllables are and how diphthongs work (i.e. the “ie” in the word pie), it will be easier to look at an audio clip of somebody speaking because then you’ll know that the person is saying “pie”, and not something like, “pai”.
3) Knowing roughly what sorts of changes languages undergo can guide your study
As you learn about linguistic processes such as sound change and grammaticalization (how words become grammar), this knowledge can help you to understand the changes that a language has undergone, if they’re still in progress. Each language has its own rich history, linked to the history of the culture, and learning about all of that will help you memorize better. It’s easier to remember what a word means if you know that its family was first used in a certain historical context.
4) Learning about sound change and phonetics can help you learn new vocabulary faster
When people talk about “difficult sounds,” it’s not just a subjective feeling of unfamiliarity – some sounds are actually rarer than others. Knowing which types of sounds are rare can help you reduce the amount of frustration from trying to learn a new language with “hard sounds.”
5) Knowing about semantic change can help you recognize false cognates and vocabulary traps
False cognates are words that look/sound similar but have different meanings. For example, Spanish “real” means “royal”, whereas English “real” means, well, real.
Knowing about semantic change (how words can change meaning over time) can help you to more easily separate false cognates from true ones.
6) Knowing the history of a language helps with learning grammar and vocabulary
Language families are groups of languages that come from a single ancestor language. Knowing the history of a language can help you recognize cognates, which means words that are similar in two languages because they’re inherited from their common ancestor.
7) Being familiar with linguistic concepts like productivity and interference makes immersing yourself more effective
Immersion is about talking to people who don’t speak your language as much as possible. In some ways, this requires you to think in your target language, since the barrier of not being able to express yourself how you want is uncomfortable.
Knowing about linguistic concepts like productivity and interference can help you to understand and embrace the experience, so that it’s more effective for helping you learn.
8) Knowing about the phonetics of your target language can make it more comfortable to talk
While there are certainly some sounds/words that are harder than others, most languages have sounds that are much easier. Knowing which ones they are lets you focus on what’s difficult while letting you chat with people using familiar words.
9) You can learn how sounds are made
This is one small section of all possible things that linguistics covers – the study of human speech sounds. Knowing what makes each sound allows you to better understand why certain languages might be tough for your native tongue to make. For example, did you know that Korean does not have an “r” sound? Foreign speakers often say the ‘l’ sound instead, which makes for a very difficult time learning Korean.
Linguistics also studies phonemes – the basic sounds that make up every language. The chart above shows only some of them. For example, did you know that English has about 45 phonemes and Hawaiian has only 13?
12) …and last but not least, it will make everything more fun!
Learning about the structure of languages is inherently interesting. It makes sense that people enjoy studying linguistics! Even if you’re not super into learning language structure, knowing a bit more than the average person might make you even more interested in other people’s languages and cultures. Learning about linguistic concepts like productivity or how to