10 Surprising Benefits of Word Searches and Crossword Puzzles in Language Learning

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Word searches and crosswords may not be on the forefront of the mind when it comes to language learning resources, but the ability to solve these puzzles require several skills that will be most useful when it comes to language learning.

Arthur Wynn a journalist from Liverpool is credited as being the inventor of the first crossword puzzle which was published in the ‘New York World‘ in 1913. Whilst Norman Gilbat published the first word search in the ‘Selenby Digest’, Oklahoma in the late 1960s. Although much earlier Pedro Ocon de Oro had created ‘Sopas de letras’ (Soup of Letters).

By the 1980s educational establishments worldwide had adopted word searches and crossword puzzles to boost vocabulary and spelling. Crossword puzzles are a form of active learning which engages more with materials than passive learning

  1. Vocabulary Building – This one is a no brainer really, but the amount of people who don’t really think about the usefulness of puzzle books and fast vocabulary building means it has made this list!
  2. Reasoning Skills – Puzzles not only get you thinking in that language but also get’s you using those reasoning skills too, this is an all important step for fluency.
  3. Spelling – Correctly deciphering a crossword also requires exact spelling, which for some students may mean practicing those dictionary skills! In relation to word searches it’s reviewing the word.
  4. Identify and understanding terms used – puzzles are great for all levels and can help build the pace from which you identify and understand key terms.
  5. Differentiations between similar words or phrases – Puzzles can really help with learning the differentiations between similar words. Which could make all the difference to saying ‘year’ or calling someone an ‘ass’ in Spanish! I’ve made this mistake…don’t go there!
  6. Reviewing Vocabulary – fun way to go over old material and test learning.
  7. Promoting ‘Active Learning‘ which engages the reader with the material more efficiently than passive learning.
  8. Great aid for visual learners who tend to have strong puzzle solving skills and feel greater satisfaction when completing them.
  9. Fab for auditory learners too that prefer step-by-step reasoning, therefore they also benefit from the sequential steps of completing a crossword.
  10. Kinesthetics learners enjoy the multi-task strategies require to solve crosswords so beneficial to all learning types.
Italian, Word Search, Puzzle, Crossword

Word Search Puzzle Books from
Scriveremo Publishing.

Although puzzles have proven to be a valuable tool in language learning I wouldn’t recommend them alone. I use them as a fun way to consolidate my knowledge of language and help build vocabulary.

References:

Radadiya, D. “Word Search”. Word Search. Net.  
Bellis, Mary. “The History of Crossword Puzzles”. About.com.

Is stress impacting on your language learning ability?

Life is stressful enough without schools and colleges love of using standardized tests, especially for languages! More and more students are feeling the stress of life, finances, and school. The surge of under 18s being prescribed medication for anxiety due to high stress especially around exam time is unfortunately on the increase!  This stress does not stop at school or college… independent language learners, such as those that learn outside of a curriculum based educational environment can feel the impact too. As independent language learners, we might stress about not speaking as fluently as we want too OR we may have to take a test to prove a level of language efficiency for our employees. Then there are the general life stresses of work, family and maybe even money worries.

So, how does the brain react to stress?

Stress is the body’s natural reaction to an increased demand that is placed on it. It exists for a reason… for a person to take action.

If you were an elastic band you could stretch…

BUT…

What happens to an elastic band that is stretched too far?

It breaks!

A student’s or independent learners reaction, to a standardized test or reaction to the high-level goals we might place upon ourselves, may induce stress. This could then trigger a response of our autonomic nervous and endocrine systems. This will lead to disrupted sleeping patterns, tiredness, irregular eating habits, increased infections, excessive worry, and the inability to focus.

This can also increase the risk of a student or independent learner just giving up on the language! Studies have also shown that students suffering from stress and anxiety have decreased cognitive functioning, such as a reduced memory capacity and problems with processing information.

Where is stress processed within the brain?

Three different brain regions are responsible for the way someone processes stress in the form of fear…

1). The prefrontal cortex. This area is believed to play a part in the interpretation of sensory stimuli and also has a part in emotional regulation and cognitive functioning. As a consequence, it is seen as the area of the brain where danger is first assessed!  

2). This danger then translates as fear within the brain. Fear is processed in the amygdala, which resides in a “primitive” (sometimes known as reptilian) area of our brain more formally known as the limbic system (that includes the hippocampus that hosts our memories). When the amygdala is in this state of stress-induced over-activation, new sensory information cannot pass through it to access the memory and association circuits.

3). Finally, the hypothalamus is an area at the base of the brain. This sends signals from the prefrontal cortex and amygdala and coordinates the release of hormones.  These drive your motor responses to the perceived threats. If the stress levels are high the body releases cortisol and, in so doing, it is preparing the body to defend itself from harm. This was great in our caveman days when we had a saber tooth tiger to fight off – but a reaction to a test or our own goal setting! We can’t spear our test papers.

In summary, stress can impact negatively upon our performance in tests and during study sessions. Prolonged stress can lead to serious physical and mental health problems. When students and independent learners get into an emotional state of stress they are not responsive to processing and storing new information. Additional neuroimaging studies of the amygdala, hippocampus regions of the brain, the limbic system, along with measurement of dopamine levels and other brain chemical transmitters during the learning process, reveal that comfort level of the learner has a critical impact on information transmission and storage within the brain. These factors have been found to affect self-confidence, trust and positive feelings for teachers, and supportive communities and are directly related to the state of mind compatible with the most successful learning, remembering, and thinking processes.

“Science has shown that if you are stressed out, new information cannot get into the brain as the defense shutters go down.”

 

Thankfully,  neuroimaging and EEG Studies have led to the development of strategies to help learners make their brains more efficient for learning even in stressful situations.  

 

If stress can negatively impact on our learning ability what can we do about it?

 

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Learning ultimately takes place when experiences are motivating and engaging. Positive motivation impacts upon the metabolism of the brain, conducting new nerve impulses through the memory areas, and thus the release of neurotransmitters that increase executive functioning, focus, and attention.

 

We live in a stressful and busy world, strategies are required to manage emotional regulation and pleasure as well as knowledge. When the right strategies are applied to better manage stress and build a positive emotional environment, students and independent learners can gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition.

10 Ways you can reduce stress and become a more efficient learner…

1. Ensure you have a good study routine in place with regular breaks.

2. Increase fluid (water) and fuel (food) intake and get some physical exercise, at least 2 30 minute aerobic workouts per week – this could include walking.

3. Set realistic goals and put together a learning plan, download the free Goal Setting ToolKit or Daily Planner Template.  Mix up the dull and interesting tasks and add different activities, such as gamification for learning languages or a mixture of audio and visual.  

4. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and embrace mistakes – this is how we learn. Try to find humor in any mistakes. Seeing the funny side is a good strategy as when you laugh you release the bodies feel-good chemicals. If you stress over a situation the body releases cortisol and too much build up of this can be bad for mental and physical wellbeing.

5. Facing an exam? Take a deep breath (or 3) even if during the test. This will help re-oxygenate the brain.

6. Take 5 to review your own mindset. Are you being too hard on yourself? Is a perfectionist attitude having an impact on learning? Need some help dealing with a negative mindset? Check out How to Manage Unhelpful Thoughts When Learning a New Language

7. Set a language learning budget – don’t feel guilty about spending money on learning. Allocate a language learning budget that is affordable to you. Planning tuition costs and materials. Make use of free trials and free language learning resources, such as LingoHut, where you can learn the basics of a language for free.

8. Collaborative learning – Join a motivational language learning group or take part in a challenge to push the boundaries, but in an environment that is supportive and can hold you accountable.

9. List your achievements in a journal or interactive notebook and read them when you need a boost.

10. Share your thoughts – talk to someone.  By discussing your thoughts on language learning with others you may gain a different perspective or realize you are not alone in your struggles. You might also feel a lot calmer and listened to.

 

Enthusiasm for Language Learning

Enthusiasm, regulated mood and being able to manage stress are absolutely essential for learning to happen. This is scientific fact, with years of research behind it. Learning physically changes the structure and function of our brains. This change can be transformational in building a stronger belief in the value of working hard and persevering in order to master a new language. Neuroplasticity and the brain’s potential can have a positive effect on self-perceptions and success.

 

10 Ways to be More Productive in Language Learning

We are not born with a positive ‘go do‘ mindset. It is our experiences, cultural background and religious beliefs that shape who we are as individuals. Although our genetics do have an influence on the chemical makeup of our attitude a positive outlook is actually a skill that anyone can learn!

It takes hard work, consistency, and perseverance.  There will always be highs and lows that life will throw at you. You mold your own perspective and are ultimately responsible for your own self-growth and success.

“Remember you shape your perspective and are ultimately responsible for your own self-growth and success”.

Limiting exposure to negativity, focusing more on the positive, offering and asking for help when needed, will help you feel better prepared for learning a new language. It can be very challenging to remain positive when faced with the challenges that can arise. For example, a language partner might not show, a tutorial may be canceled or you may not be feeling confident about an exam. These experiences can all have a negative impact on your attitude for study and make you feel less motivated. However, it does not have to be that way. You can shape your own response to negative experiences and improve your performance.

1. Focus on the Positive to be More Productive

Step back and take a deep breath and remind yourself of all the reasons why you are learning the language. Write down all the things that are going well for you. A good idea is to invest in a journal. To get some ideas on how to use a language journal check out 10 ways to use a bullet journal for language learning. Once you have done this make a start! Any fear of failure of excuses for having a lack of time will greatly reduce.

2. Look for the Good

Many people find it hard to stay positive when faced with negative situations. If you are struggling with

learning a language, always remember that this difficulty will pass and if it doesn’t you can adapt your learning to better cope with the challenge. Be grateful for the things that are going well for you.  Honour even the smallest of successes that you have when learning a new language.  Noticing and pointing out the good will help you

to stay more positively focused, motivated and will build greater confidence.

A positive attitude can also influence those around you. Give thanks when someone makes an extra effort to help you. If you’re impressed with someone, tell them. Praise encourages an appreciation and this positive reinforcement will be returned to you in some form or another. Looking for the good can also reduce nonconstructive competition and comparison between other language learners too.

3. Escaping Negativity

If someone is being rather negative about another language learner refuse to join in. My trick is to turn the conversation around with some humor or telling a story of something else thus changing the topic. Joining in with negativity not only hurts those around you but over time you could develop a ‘toxic’ mindset too. A toxic mindset is detrimental to your own well-being. There will always be people who like to dwell and suck up positive energy like a vacuum and leak out negative vile. They think that the world is against them and they have a right to have whatever they want with little regard for those around them. They always complain and are quick to criticise others. Be aware of these people and try to avoid them because their pessimistic outlook will start to impact your own. Although sometimes it can be our very own thoughts that are negative check out this post to learn how to manage negative thoughts.

4. Environmental and Biological Factors

Scientific studies have shown that our environmental factors can impact on our ability to learn. ambient temperatures are linked to productivity. The comfort zone is between 22ºC/72ºF – 25ºC/77ºF. It is also important that you are aware of your most productive time of the day. Even if is 11pm at night or 5am in the morning. Pick a time that feels right for you. Our learning styles can be very different to one another so it is important you have the right learning style for you. If you are not as productive as the day before try switching computer for a book or working with pen and paper rather than a phone app. Switching environment can be a great motivator and might even promote some creativity!

5. Less is More

Less actually equals more! Productivity is not measured by how long you sit in your designated study area. The Pomodoro Technique is an excellent technique. Work in short bursts with maximum focus and take short breaks when your attention starts to wonder. It is important to just focus on one thing at a time. Research has shown that multi-tasking is inefficient.

6. Setting Goals for Language Learning

If you say “I want to learn French” that isn’t a very precise goal and sounds very overwhelming. Break goals down into smaller more management chunks over a specific time period.  It is important to set ambitious, but realistic goals. If your goals are over ambitious you are setting yourself up to fail and impacting on your future motivational levels. You will find more enjoyment in learning if you’re always aiming to do better. Acknowledge what you can’t change and work on the things you have control over. Ask yourself what your ultimate goals are? Where do you see yourself in 6 months, five or ten years time? Then ask yourself what you need to do to get there.

7. Journaling for Success 

Make a plan in a journal. For more information check out How to Set Language Learning Goals in Your Bullet Journal.

8. Pareto Principle

More commonly known as the 80-20 rule. This principle draws upon the rule that 80 per-cent of our effects come from just 20% of the cause.

9. Social Stimulus

Developing relationships with other language learners is one of the most effective ways to improve your attitude and performance. Feeling supported will help you have more fun with your language learning, Reach out and realize the value of study partners. If you begin to feel negative, look to upbeat language learners to put things back into
perspective for you. Language is key to being social and developing people skills is an important part of language learning. By sharing your goals you will feel more accountable for them. Check out the 24 soft skills that are required to be a successful language learner.

10. Reward yourself

If you’ve just completed a goal, gone up a level in your fluency or you’re feeling
really exhausted, consider taking a break from studying for a couple of days. A long
weekend can improve your productivity and leave you feeling refreshed and more motivated too.

 What helps you to be more productive in your language learning? Comment below…


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