Many people in the US struggle with their mental health, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions such as depression and anxiety are on the rise. One third of Americans are reporting symptoms of these aforementioned conditions, which is a large increase from pre-pandemic levels. However, as the present situation drags on, many people are learning to cope by exercising their creativity. Activities like doing puzzles and creating art are on the rise as people try to soothe themselves. Ironically, I also do puzzles and find them very relaxing, but something else that I’m doing more often is studying French. In fact, along with puzzling, studying my second language helps a lot with my anxiety. This may be surprising, but there are many reasons why I find studying a second language so helpful.
How Studying a Second Language Helps Me Cope
First of all, learning French is fun, it makes me happy and connects me with pleasant memories. Whenever I open a French novel, for example, it reminds me of discovering my mother’s high school French textbook as a child. The strange words and accents were so fascinating to me. It was the start of my love of the French language.
Aside from bringing up pleasant, comforting memories, studying French also grounds me. For example, watching the evening news is like walking through a landmine. I never know which disturbing video or detail is going to set me off. More often than not, watching the news fills me with questions and doubts. I’m stuck in the past remembering all the activities that I can’t do anymore, like going to the movies. Or I’m trapped in the future, asking will the pandemic last forever? Opening up my computer to work on some French exercises grounds me in the present moment. My mind is stimulated and I am never bored. The exercises are challenging and require so much attention that my mind doesn’t wander to the past or to the future. Instead, I am safe in the present moment.
From time to time, instead of studying on my own, I will take an online class with L’Alliance Française in Washington, DC. Recently, I took a class about the past tenses: passé composé, passé simple, and the plus-que-parfait. I hadn’t taken a class in a long time and it was so much fun to learn with others and benefit from the knowledge and expertise of the teacher. Instead of studying alone and feeling a bit disconnected (not to mention having no one around to ask questions), I was able to feel part of a group with a common purpose. The feelings of isolation and loneliness that I feel while being quarantined were gone. When work is over and I’m stuck with nothing to do, studying French helps me feel capable and gives me a sense of accomplishment which increases my self-confidence.
How Being Bilingual Can Help You Cope
For me, studying a second language helps me cope with pandemic anxiety. However, being fully bilingual can also help people cope in surprising ways. For example, speaking a native language can be a way to relax. Sometimes speaking a foreign language, English, all day can be tiring because it takes a lot of mental strength. Watching TV (not the news!) or reading a book in your language can be a temporary way to help you relax and get your mind off the troubles of the world.
In addition, much like my French classes keep me connected to others, your native language keeps you connected to friends and family. Not all of your loved ones may speak English as well as you do. A quick Zoom call can help you stay up-to-date on each other’s lives and activities, encouraging soothing feelings of closeness and perhaps even of connection to your native culture.
Lastly, and most importantly, becoming fully bilingual is hard. Learning a new language and living in a new culture has made you able to cope with difficult experiences. As a bilingual person, you might be better able to cope with the present difficulties than a person who only speaks one language.
Although you may use English every day, it is still important to study and keep your skills sharp. ReDefiners World Languages offers free and low-cost classes to adults (and children), so you can improve your languages skills, get a better job and live a better life, wherever you are in the world.
For more information about studying a new language, volunteering or even donating to support language program scholarships to underserved populations, visit www.redefinerswl.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.