Gippsland doctor Jo McCubbin is among the many Australians taking advantage of COVID-19 restrictions to start learning a new language.
She downloaded an app to learn Scottish Gaelic, in a bid to tap into her ancestry.
“I did a bit of family history, bike riding in Scotland some years ago now,” Dr McCubbin said.
She said she had found the grammar and pronunciation difficult but had finished the course and was waiting for new material to be added.
According to the 2011 Scottish Census, just 59,000 people reported they could speak Gaelic.
And if Gaelic speakers were rare in Scotland, they were even less common in Sale, where Dr McCubbin practises medicine.
She said while the app was not perfect, it did give her the opportunity to listen to the language.
“There’s all the bits where they say it and you have to translate what they said, write it down and that sort of thing, which [helps] you gradually get your ear in,” Dr McCubbin said.
Apps a good start
The number of new Australian users of the popular language app Duolingo doubled in March from the month before.
Language expert Jacqueline Dutton said she wasn’t surprised more people were using their free time to learn a language, and that many people would be using apps to “get a head start” in isolation.
“Then perhaps (they can) invest a bit more interactive time with learning language in a more community-oriented environment.”
She said to get a strong grasp of a language people needed to engage in “real-life exchanges”, which could be difficult for people in rural and regional areas.
Many soon gave up because they didn’t have the time to study or the ability to practise the new language by using it.
Dr Dutton said people wanting to succeed should choose a language they were passionate about and find a way to link it to their other hobbies.
“So for example, if you’re interested in cars, find a community who’s interested in cars, and is speaking the language that you want to learn and you’re going to start to learn the vocabulary,” she said.
“So it’s that kind of next step on from an app I think that that people need to take in order to be able to actually use the language”.
Tech breaking down regional divide
Bairnsdale doctor Rob Phair said he was “fortunate” to learn German after moving overseas with his parents as a child.
He said it was “extremely beneficial in terms of your overall mental development and gives you all kinds of benefits, and so naturally you’d want to pursue those benefits for your own kids,” he said.
He was struck by the potential of technology to help regions-based people learn languages after his children’s recent switch to online learning.
“What was previously restricted to a metropolitan Melbourne audience could easily be expanded out to rural Victoria.”