At Diplomatic Language Services, it isn’t difficult to find a lifelong learner. From our fantastic language instructors to our hard-working students to our dedicated staff, we are all at DLS because we share a common passion for learning. For many people, education ends when they receive their diplomas. At DLS, however, there is a constant search for new ways to expand our knowledge and skills. Learning new languages is a no-brainer for us, of course, but there is a surfeit of other ways to continue our education beyond the classroom.
And the truth is that, even without the personal gain to be made from learning new skills and acquiring new knowledge, the process of learning is good for your health. Language learning in particular is a great “exercise” for the brain. Learning new things not only keeps your mind sharp, but it also has been tied to healthier, more robust brain cells. Use it or lose it, as they say – an oversimplification, for sure. But truth nonetheless. Your brain needs to be challenged and exercised in new ways, just as all muscles do.
So, how can you continue your education when you have other responsibilities demanding your time and attention? How can you fit lifelong learning into a schedule packed with work, family, and friends? It isn’t always easy to find the time, but dedicating yourself to being a lifelong learner will be well worth the effort.
Pick up a book.
Reading is one of the most flexible and accessible tools available for expanding your knowledge base. Keep a list of books you want to read, check out your local library, join a book club. Reading truly is one of life’s most fundamental, most important skills, and it is an invaluable tool for a lifelong learner.
That’s not to say you should ignore that work deadline, or ignore your kids all evening, but setting aside a specific amount of time each day for your lifelong learning endeavors will make it a priority and, more importantly, a habit. It doesn’t need to be a long time. In fact, 15-30 minutes per day will do it. If you have more time to devote, even better.
Do a little soul searching.
Don’t pick up a book about human anatomy if you have no genuine interest in the subject. What subject(s) get you excited? Whether that subject is highly technical in nature or a seemingly frivolous topic, if it piques your interest, that’s where your focus should be. Don’t ever commit to learning something that is of no interest to you (unless, of course, it’s for your job!).
Embrace your inner child!
Not sure what topic(s) get your learning juices flowing? Engage that curiosity that is so inherent to children. Look for alternative ways to do things or solve problems. Think about the activities you enjoyed doing as a child. Were you drawn to the local creek and its abundance of wildlife? Did you beg your parents to take you to art museums? Or did you prefer to be out on your bike for hours at a time? Sometimes we simply need to reconnect with who we once were to remember what makes us tick.
Learning is best done by doing When learning a new language, you are most likely to be successful by being fully immersed in the language and culture. And if you speak that language every day, you are far more likely to improve than if you simply do a few exercises in your workbook. So whatever your topic(s) of choice for learning are, practice your skill. Find a coach if you need to. Hire a tutor. Enroll in a class. As they say, practice makes perfect!
Don’t forget the VAT (Visual, Auditory, and Tactile) ways of learning.
We all learn best in different ways, and if you know you are a visual learner, choose books or an online class that is heavy on graphics. If you are a tactile learner, on the other hand, a subject that literally requires you to get in the weeds may be best.
Pay it forward.
One of the best ways to thoroughly learn a subject or skill is to teach others that same skill. Teaching forces us to consolidate our knowledge and helps to highlight any holes in our knowledge. You are also likely to gain confidence in your own learning if you feel others are benefiting from your hard-won knowledge. So, whether it involves teaching your children what you’ve learned, or simply explaining a new concept to a colleague over lunch, pay your learning forward.
Have an end goal.
It is difficult to fully engage in learning a new subject or skill if you don’t have a purpose in mind. Perhaps your end goal is simply to speak French better with your Parisian in-laws. Or maybe you want to be able to play basketball with your kids. Or perhaps you are learning to garden because you crave a pastime that is calming. Whatever your reason, know the WHY of your learning.
Your body (and mind) is a temple.
As with so many things in life, you will only be successful at learning a new skill or subject if you keep your body and mind healthy. While you don’t need to stop learning the next time you come down with a cold, focusing on a generally healthy lifestyle will help keep you sharp and primed for that next educational venture. Soon, you too will call yourself a true lifelong learner.
By Kate Marden