How Diet and Nutrition Can Impact Language Learning Ability

You may be thinking what has your diet and nutrition got to do with Language learning? At Language Learners Journal our focus is on a more holistic approach to learning and this means looking at the bigger picture and thinking about other areas that might be impacting on our ability to learn. One of these areas just happens to diet and nutrition!

Have you noticed when you are hungry you might get a little grumpy and struggle to focus? If your car is low on fuel it might run a little sluggish. You would top it up with fuel to make it work more efficiently again. If it completely ran out it will just stop! Let’s apply this to your brain. Food is fuel. It gives you energy. If you don’t have sufficient energy levels your brain will not be able to properly process new information. Instincts will kick in to find food. Conversely, if you put the wrong type of fuel in your car it will not work properly. The same applies to your brain. If you eat rubbish it will not work properly!

Our modern-day eating habits have a tendency to be loaded with sugars, caffeine, chemicals, and fizzy drinks.  After the sugar or caffeine rush is over you will start feeling rather tired, unfocused, a little shakey and maybe even a little sick! Studies have shown that students that have healthier lifestyles, for example, a more balanced diet along with good sleep hygiene, regular exercise, and increased water intake have improved focus, attention, memory,  and are better able to manage their moods. All important things if you want to learn a new language!

According to the Society for Neuroscience,  a diet that has high levels of saturated fats can impair learning and memory especially when consumed by children. One of the theories that explain the link between saturated fats and brain power in the research paper is the effects of glucose and sugars in higher-fat foods. You can get glucose from carbohydrates, and while glucose is essential for energy, foods that are too high in glucose can actually cause the body’s energy levels to suddenly drop. This will impact upon one’s ability to focus, process and digest new information.
Deficiencies in iron, Vitamin B, E, and Zinc are also scientifically known to impact upon cognitive functioning, energy and concentration levels. So if you are feeling very low in energy and unable to focus it may be worth increasing foods that contain these.

Increased Cognitive Functioning

Studies have shown that healthier diets are associated with increased cognitive functioning which leads to improved memory formation, focus. increased attention span. This all leads to better performance in exams. However, researchers have also discovered that children who are malnourished had problems with vision, fine motor skills and even struggled with language skills!

Malnourished children […] were found to have delays in vision, fine motors skills, language skills and personal-social skills.

Researchers Margaret Lahey and Shari Rosen 

Here are my top 10 brain-boosting nutritional tips. I believe that it is vital to ensure a healthy and balanced diet when learning new things, especially languages. For a start, it helps with focus, concentration, memory, mood, energy and even our motivational levels.

10 Brain-Boosting Nutritional Tips for Language Learners

1. If you are able to then try not to study on an empty stomach and ensure you have some water.

2. Keep a food, sleep and exercise diary to monitor what is happening. Often until we see it written down we aren’t really aware of the patterns and habits we form.

3. To promote healthy eating and brain function eat smaller healthier meals and snacks every three to four hours. Studies show that after just thirty minutes, feelings of fatigue and stress drop after a nutritious snack or meal. Healthy levels of glucose can boost energy levels and improve their focus.

4. Ensure your breakfast is high in protein. So have eggs, milk, and cheese. You can also get protein from nuts, pulses, and soya. Higher protein and lower carbohydrates can help enhance concentration levels.

5. Healthy meals and snacks should consist of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, nuts, and eggs. Also, specific vitamins and minerals can be incorporated to improve memory. Invest in foods that are rich in lecithins, such as peanuts, soybeans, and wheat germ. Potassium also aids in energy and brain functioning and can be derived from oranges, bananas, apricots, avocados, melons, peaches,  nectarines, but it doesn’t just have to be fruit, fish, carrot juice, beans and sweet potatoes also contain potassium!

6. Cook with olive oil – it is rich in Polys, which are powerful brain protective antioxidants!

7. Fish such as salmon contains omega, but if you are not liking fish you can get omega 3 from walnuts and flaxseed.

8. Ensure you are getting the minimum of 7 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Remember Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants. Blueberries along with omega 3 help maintain the general health of brain cells. It also helps stimulate the growth of brain cells in the hippocampus region of the brain. Therefore helping with memory formation.

9. Suffering from poor memory and finding it difficult to pay attention? Increase your vitamin B1 intake. So wholegrain, such as brown rice and bran. Broccoli, mushrooms, nuts, and seeds (unless you have allergies).

10. Most importantly ensure you are drinking enough water every day. Water really is a forgotten nutrient! Water makes up over two-thirds of our bodies. A mere 2% decline in water can have serious implications on own brain health, such as poor short-term memory, confusion, poor concentration and difficulty focusing.  Dehydration is also one of the most common causes of fatigue.

Remember a well-balanced diet with an active lifestyle and good sleep hygiene will really help your brain, to process new information more efficiently and allow better storage conditions for memory. So follow these tips and get the most out of your next study session.

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If you are worried about your diet or feel you might have an intolerance or food allergy please seek professional advice from a doctor or medical professional. You can also check out the NHS – Live Well for professional information, apps and tools to help you get healthier.

Have a question? Comment below or post on social media. 


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Language Learning on a Budget

So you are planning to learn a new language…Exciting! Language learning does not have to be expensive. This is my guide to language learning on a budget.

The Journal 

First things first invest in a journal/notebook/ Loose paper file. Whatever works for you. I picked up a rather nice looking notebook with tabs for only £2.00!!! The first few pages are where you can plan a budget for language learning. Check out this post on how to use a journal for language learning.

What?, Why?, When?, How?

What language are you learning and why are you learning the languages? Believe it or not, the answers to these questions could impact on the budget. Pick a start date and plan for how many weeks or months you plan to study? What is the end goal? What do you hope to achieve?

Example:

I am learning Spanish for 3 months starting October 2016 and by Christmas, I plan to have a basic 10-15 minute conversation in Spanish. I will achieve this by choosing a different topic each week and focus on adding 10 – 20 new words per day. 

Make the most of the FREE trials!!!

So if you also plan for 3 months think about the resources you are going to use. There are lots of resources available and some are FREE or offer a free trial from anything from 7 days to a whole month. Take advantage of these offers. Often the free trials give you a good grasp of the basics but make sure you go to a reliable website.

Invest in a good tutor or two

Language exchanges are great and have a lot of benefits. They can help you get speaking from day 1. However from personal experiences budgeting early on for a tutor on Italki is very beneficial. Tutors can vary in price, but they are a good investment. Community tutors are often cheaper than professional tutors. I currently have both for learning Mandarin. I bought about 700 credits costing around £65 and this will last a couple of months for me. The lessons tend to work out cheaper the more credits you buy. I also have a few language exchange buddies that I chat too in between sessions that help with any language homework.

Make use of apps (especially FREE ones)

I love Duolingo and this can be a great and fun way of learning a language, but this should be used in conjunction with other resources. The tiny cards app, by Duolingo, is also great. For Mandarin, I used the Hello Chinese app, which is very similar to the style of Duolingo.

Libraries 

I have been making great use of libraries since learning a language and it is also a great way of testing out books before you buy. Don’t forget most libraries have gone digital now so you can get books out on a Kindle or use a special reader up on the PC.

Invest in Motivation 

I don’t just invest in language learning equipment, but I invest in my motivation too. I just completed the #add1challenge and I am currently taking part in the free Language Learning Amplified Program in June. Challenges really help to boost my level of motivation and kept me going when I felt I had hit a wall. It is a very positive environment and I feel that is very important when you are learning a new language. Also, don’t forget to apply soft skills when learning a language, it’s not all about grammar books and Italki tutorials!

Meetup Groups 

Check out any local learning groups in your area. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a language Meetup in my local area – so I created one! These groups are often free or have only a small charge, but it is better to learn a language with others rather than on your own. If you want to start a Meetup checkout The Complete Guide to Organising a Successful Meetup Group

I will be adding more cost-saving ideas shortly so bookmark this post! Please share your money saving ideas in the comments section below or on my Twitter or Facebook page, thank you.


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10 Tips for finding a suitable online language tutor

There are literally so many amazing tutors out there and unfortunately some bad ones too… This handy guide highlights some simple procedures to help you make an informed choice when selecting an online new tutor.


*This post may contain affiliate links. You don’t pay more, but I may receive a modest commission that supports the running costs of this site & the FREE content it has to offer! 


1. Check it out…

DO NOT go with the first profile you see or on that matter the first platform you may use! Italki is a popular choice with over a million students and thousands of teachers. I have used it to learn Italian, Spanish, Icelandic and even Mandarin Chinese! If you sign up using this link you’ll get $10 towards your first lesson, awesome. Another fabulous platform to find a teacher on is ClassGap. What I like about ClassGap is there is no need for Skype as they have their own virtual classroom and to top it off you’ll find tutors for other subjects too – Singing to Science! Learning English, but feeling stuck? OR are you preparing for language learning and feeling overwhelmed? I’m a tutor on ClassGap and you can book a FREE 15-minute chat with me over on the site and check out their awesome virtual classroom.

Remember if you do see a profile that catches the eye don’t forget to bookmark it or save to faves! 

2. Read the profiles thoroughly

What teaching experience do they have? what qualifications have they got? What level do they prefer to teach? If you are a complete beginner I would recommend going with a more experienced tutor.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…

3. References, please

Check out what other students have written about the tutors! BUT take it with a pinch of salt. What works for one student might not work for another and sometimes it’s a clash of personalities, but if they have consistent 2-3 stars and bad reviews maybe set your sights a little higher!

“Some people like my advice so much that they frame it upon the wall instead of using it.”

– Gordon R. Dickson

 

4. Past experiences 

Don’t be put off by having a bad experience with a tutor in the past. They might not have been a really bad tutor, just someone who is unsuitable for you. Just because someone is highly qualified does not automatically mean they may be the right teacher for you. Ask questions before agreeing to work with a tutor.

Personality can be just as important as experiences and qualifications – if not more so.

5. Needs analysis 

What is your learning style learning style? Unsure? A really useful article from the Language Learning Library can help it’s called  Supercharge Language Learning.

Remember a good tutor is one that is flexible to the individual learning needs of their students – one size does not fit all! 

6. Prior planning

Think about how many sessions you require and how long per session? I have found that 1, 60-minute session a week is too much for me. I prefer two 30 minute sessions per week. I feel drained 45 minutes in and find I am no longer paying attention! However, we are all different. What time scale would best suit you?

How much time are you prepared to put into your language learning? Remember you reap what you sow. Take personal responsibility for your learning. 

7. Set a budget 

Do you have a language learning budget in mind? Take this into consideration on Italki professional teachers tend to be more expensive than community tutors. Professional teachers are more likely to provide links to other resources, such as books and handouts. The sessions do tend to be more structured than community tutors. However, that said I got lucky with a teaching student who wanted to get some practice in before she qualified!

Remember a budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went! 

8. Question time

Pick your 5 favorite tutors and email them some questions. Remember you are paying them to help you to learn a language. Interview them. Get them to expand on what they have written.  Do you have any disabilities that they need to be aware of, i.e. dyslexia? What could they do to support you with this? How flexible can they be and I am not talking yoga moves? Could they break down hour session into manageable chunks or could they extend an hour session? Do they have packages tailed to suit individual requirements?

To be or not to be (my new online tutor)? That is the question… 

9. Whittle it down…

Out of the five tutors you have selected I now want you to whittle it down to 3. I tend to ditch those that have not responded to my email within 48 hours. Out of that 3, I will do the trial sessions and make a decision based on that and the packages they offer. Due to the language challenges that I like to take part in I need tutors to respond quickly and have available spaces from day 1.

“Your best shot at happiness, self-worth and personal satisfaction – the things that constitute real success – is not in earning as much as you can but in performing as well as you can at something that you consider worthwhile”.

– William Raspberry

10.  Set a schedule

1 tutor for 1 hour a week or 2 tutors 30 minutes a week. whatever works for you. Work at your own pace to a schedule that suits you. I like to kick start my language learning with a 3-month challenge that puts me in the best possible position to have a 10-15 minute conversation in 90 days.

“You gotta make it a priority to make your priorities a priority.” 

― Richie Norton

Have you found this article useful? Comment your thoughts below or share it with friends or colleagues.


 

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