Hack your commute: Learn a language in 20 minutes

In Marketing Week’s new ‘Hack your commute’ series we explore inspiring and fulfilling ways to spend your journeys to and from work that will expand your mind and broaden your horizons.

For most who grew up in Britain, language learning conjures images of cassette tapes, conjugations and phrases of dubious real-life relevance such as ‘mein Hamster ist gestorben’.

But for those who continue to feel guilt when their international colleagues switch effortlessly to fluent English on a conference call for the benefit of monolingual Brits, there are more modern alternatives.

Duolingo, a free app available on Android, iOS and desktop browsers, offers flexible ways to learn and test yourself at your own speed, meaning that you can adapt your learning to any situation and whatever free time you have.

You can set targets, for example, to practise for anything from five to 20 minutes per day; set email alerts for when you fail to do so; and turn the speaking exercises on or off depending on whether you’re in the privacy of your living room or packed like a sardine on the 07:56 to King’s Cross.

You can also choose the more formal approach of looking up the verb tables of each new word you learn and comparing translations on the discussion forum, or you can fly by the seat of your pants and take the ‘fail fast’ option.

If the practical benefits of having a second dictionary in your head for your next trip abroad aren’t sufficient to convince you, there are also scientific studies extolling the positive cognitive effects of language learning.

A Swedish MRI study has indicated that the process grows specific parts of the brain, while the University of Edinburgh found that it could slow brain ageing and delay the onset of dementia.

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