Why You Should Learn A Language Under COVID-19 Lockdown

  • Donovan Nagel
    Written byDonovan Nagel
    Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot
    🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW
    🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW

    Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
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Why You Should Learn A Language Under COVID-19 Lockdown

Language (online) education seems to be one of the few fields actually benefiting from the COVID-19 lockdown (for now).

One of my first thoughts when the economy started grinding to a halt was:

“The last thing people are going to want to invest in right now are non-essential language learning courses”.

As it turns out, the interest in online language courses has gone through the roof the past few weeks.

I’ve personally had more email enquiries and new subscriptions in one week than I typically get in a whole quarter.

This will undoubtedly change.

But right now there are people everywhere stuck at home online – a combination primarily of bored adults looking to give themselves new goals in isolation, and parents looking for courses for their teenagers who can’t attend school.

I’m sure online stores of every kind are seeing a surge.

Major companies like Rosetta Stone and Babbel pounced on this opportunity quickly with free subscription offers, and Duolingo is reporting record growth and usage.

I have a few theories on where I see all this heading which I’ll share below.

I also want to encourage you to use at-home isolation as an opportunity – an excuse – to accomplish targets that you would otherwise not do.

First… a personal update – how we’re dealing with COVID-19 lockdown

It’s been quite a while since I wrote a personal update on this blog!

Where do I even begin? 🙂

So, as you may remember, we’ve been living in Northern California for the past several years where we had our first two kids (see above).

Last year, we travelled back to Australia since I was insanely homesick and needed to introduce my new daughter to my side of the family. This was supposed to be a short trip and we meant to be back in California early this year.

COVID-19 has made getting back over there next to impossible.

We had a flight booked on March 3rd, packed up all our things here in Australia, loaded the car with luggage and started driving toward the airport.

I pulled the car over on the side of the road and told my wife:

“Something just doesn’t feel right about this. I’ve never felt this way about travel before. I think we need to cancel.”

This was weeks before COVID-19 exploded and lockdowns started everywhere.

In all my years of international travel, I’ve never pulled the plug that last minute and felt really weird doing so. Even friends and family thought it was strange at the time.

Now I see it as divinely providential.

I felt pretty awful getting my wife and kids excited about travel, packing their bags and turning the car around.

Not to mention disappointed in-laws! 🙂

Needless to say, here we are weeks later – travel between Brisbane and California is over until at least June (major airlines, including ours, halted flights), and I’m thankful we kept our kids here where they’re a LOT safer than our friends in America right now.

My main concern is that I may end up losing my US residency over this.

We’re staying in the Gold Coast Hinterland surrounded by rainforest and birds (think Hobbiton but with cockatoos), very few people, and loads of nature for our kids to run in and explore during lockdown.

[Instagram post here]

I was especially concerned about Italy, since the area hardest hit (Lombardy) is where I lived a few years ago doing Italian immersion and some of my dearest friends live there with already-sick relatives.

Thankfully they’re high elevation in the alps and have been mostly unaffected.

My wife’s family are all New Yorkers though so that’s definitely caused some concern in our family.

The effects of travel prohibition on our desire to travel

My interest in overseas travel has diminished enormously in recent years.

I have my places and my people that I love to visit in various parts of the world, but unless there’s a clear goal for doing so (i.e. language immersion), I just don’t care much for airports and being nomadic anymore.


Isn’t it fascinating how prohibition changes our attitude?

The fact that I can’t travel makes me want to travel.

For the first time in literally years, I sat down the other day and started looking through travel blogs for inspiration for my next overseas adventure. There’s a renewed fervour brought on by being trapped.

I know I’m not the only one feeling like this.

See the COVID lockdown as an opportunity

You’re stuck at home.

Like me, the travel prohibition is probably making you miss adventure more than ever.

Don’t sit around watching Netflix the whole time (not that those of us with kids are able to do much of that anyway!) – prepare for when you’re free again.

Pandemics have a finite lifespan.

As I mentioned above, major language companies have already reduced their course prices or even dropped them completely (see here or the menu links above for recommendations). Here are some other helpful course lists/summaries: Arabic, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Korean and French.

Do some Skype Zoom lessons with native speakers (on italki).

When things go back to normal and travel resumes, I expect the tourism industry to explode with people wanting to get out and see things again.

And countries like Italy and Spain will welcome the economic boost from new visitors.

Learning is a positive distraction from fear

I mentioned this in a recent email I sent out (you can get these emails by ‘Joining The Guild’ below).

Language learning in isolation isn’t just a practical use of extra spare time.

Perhaps even more importantly, it’s a distraction from fear.

The news is seriously depressing every day – it’s absolutely demoralizing, especially when no end is in sight and no confident answers can come from any government as to a solution.

This could literally go on for years.

But taking up a language learning goal (or anything else), helps us stay focused on the fact that life goes on, there is an eventual end to the madness, and we need to continually be in a state of hopefulness for the future.

How are you handling the lockdown?

Is there anything I can do for you?

One of my personal resolutions during this whole period is to be more active and present online – subscribe to my YouTube channel where I’ll be uploading fresh content shortly.

I’d love to hear from you on how you and your family are doing right now, wherever you are in the world.

Comment below.

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Cardinal MezzofantiCardinal Guiseppe Mezzofanti was a 19th century polyglot who is believed to have spoken at least 39 languages!Learn more
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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek


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Hello Donovan,

Thank you for this article.

Language learning has made me forgot about being scared during this time.

At the moment I am improving on Vietnamese (my family background), Cantonese (my father’s father is from Guangdong province), Mandarin (I have a lot of friends who are Mainland Chinese and from Taiwan) and Khmer (My girlfriend is from Cambodia and I want to connect with her family).

Thank you and God bless you and your family :)

Gareth Seagull

Gareth Seagull

I agree!

We are stuck in our homes for the most part, why not try to learn a new language! What else would we be doing?!

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel


More productive than wasting time watching TV. :)



I also consider this lockdown as an opportunity to learn. I can’t say that the prohibition has awakened in me a desire to travel. I have canceled my summer vacation and accepted it because I want this situation to finally end with the least loss. But I really see this time as an opportunity to learn new languages. For example, I am now actively learning Spanish. I put it off for 3 years and now I have time and opportunities (huge discounts on all educational platforms). And for this I am grateful.
Thank you, you have given very good reasons and examples where to start.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Thanks Henry.

Sorry to hear about your summer vacation plans being cancelled. Hopefully you were more fortunate than us in getting refunds (we’ve had a hard time).

All the best with your Spanish.

Marie Laurent

Marie Laurent

Hi Donovan
I’m Marie from France.
I am now self immersing into t Italian , my personal tribute. I may book a trip when the pandemic is over, but learning learning a foreign language is a journey in itself and even more now with our freedom of movement limited here to a 1km perimeter from home.
I find your chronicles interesting. Very humanist.
Love English, I do a bit of ESL teaching for adult learners.

Best wishes to you and your family.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Thanks for the well wishes, Marie!

”learning a foreign language is a journey in itself” -- that’s very true. Well put :)

All the best with your Italian.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
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