The Science behind mindful language learning

An ancient eastern practice, redesigned for western society and backed up by modern day science.

Technological advancements have allowed scientists to measure the impact that mindfulness has on the effect of continued learning within the brain. This technology has shown that even adult brains are not fixed or hardwired but are capable of being re-routed for change.  Learning and practicing new skills such as languages can grow parts of the brain via ‘neuroplasticity. By learning more mindfully and applying daily meditations we can actually alter the physical structure of our brains and become more efficient at processing new information.

Brain Growth

One of the major improvements gained from regular meditation is an increase in white brain matter, this can be described as the brain’s connective channels. Studies have shown that after only 8 weeks of mindfulness practice the white matter sections of the brain had increased in density. Impressively, the growth of this white matter as a result of meditation led to an increased improvement in mood regulation.

If that wasn’t enough, the build-up of white matter also allowed different sections of the brain to communicate more effectively with each other. Therefore If the brain is working more efficiently then this can improve the ability to learn new information.

Increase Emotional Regulation

The ‘amygdala hijack’ refers to the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ reaction that our ancestors and primates developed in response to danger. Our brains react to extreme stress in the same way, leading to irrational moments or furious outbursts. Using MRI scanners, scientists have determined that those who practice mindfulness meditation on a regular basis have smaller amygdalas than those who do not practice. This may tell us something about the reduced stress levels enjoyed by meditators and in particular their relatively increased ability to manage stress in day to day life without feeling overwhelmed by it. Regular meditators also have a more developed hippocampus, this is the part of the brain typically associated with memory and learning.

Improved Brain Health

This neuroplasticity is key to keeping our brains supple, even later on in life. Recent studies have discovered that the brains of older meditators had the same cortical thickness as people who are much younger than them! Meditation also appeared to delay the shrinkage of brain matter that affects people as they grow older. This maintaining of brain mass means that a meditator’s brain often appeared as much as 7 years younger than their actual age. Finally, attention, body and sensory awareness were all at better levels than those who did not practice regular meditation.

In summary, by applying simple mindfulness practices to your daily learning routines you are increasing the cognitive functioning of your brain making you better able to deeply process the new information that you are learning. You will also be more in tune with your own abilities helping to make you a more efficient language learner.

References

What is a more mindful and holistic approach to language learning?

MBSR: 25 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Exercises and Courses

Forbes: 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change The Brain

8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice – A systematic review

3 Simple Language Learning Activities for Mindfulness

Guest Blogger: Elena from Hitoritabi


Practising mindfulness is a powerful way to get better results in language learning.

Ever got frustrated at yourself because you couldn’t focus on a reading exercise for more than 2 minutes?

When you practice mindfulness, your attention span improves. This makes it easier to retain the vocabulary you have learnt and to get better results at listening and reading activities.

And what about the times when you beat yourself up because you’re not learning fast enough, or you’re making too many mistakes? Sometimes you think you’re just not good at this language learning thing and you consider giving up altogether.

Before you get that far, give mindfulness a chance…

It will help you become kinder to yourself, more accepting of the mistakes you’re bound to make during the learning process. It gets easier to let go of your perfectionism, that too often gets in the way of your progress.

You’ll finally give yourself permission to take a break when you need it. Because let’s say it, pushing yourself too hard would only bring you to a crisis in your language learning, eventually.

You won’t persist in the damaging habit of comparing yourself to others and harshly judging your weaknesses. Quite the opposite: you’ll be more productive and you’ll even find new fire for your creativity.

And what about those days when doing anything is hard because anxiety crawls up to grab you?

Well, mindfulness also increases your ability to manage stress and gives you better control over your negative emotions. Training your mind to focus on the present moment will relieve your anxiety greatly.

This said it’s clear how taking a few minutes to practice mindfulness every day can be a breeze of fresh air in your studies.

But have you ever thought about making language learning itself into a mindfulness practice?

Performing a repetitive, day-to-day activity can become a way to practice being focused on the present moment.

Simple actions, just like colouring or knitting, can be an anchor for you to avoid getting carried away by distracting thoughts. At the same time, they’re not so energy-consuming to leave you drained. As a result, they are perfect to relax your brain.

The following activities are good because…

You won’t use any app or electronic device.

Being constantly connected reduces our attention span, making it more difficult to focus. While practising on our electronic devices, we often get distracted by a notification, or we feel a sudden need to check our mail. For a mindful study session, go back to good old pen and paper.

You’ll write by hand.

Writing by hand appears to improve your memory. Using pen and paper, instead of a keyboard, helps you recall and understand concepts better. Moreover, the action of moving your hand on the page can be a relaxing and therapeutic action in itself.

You focus on a simple task.

Some language learning activities require you to put a lot of effort into them, to understand new words or complicated concepts. While these activities are important, they can leave your brain exhausted and are not the most appropriate to practice mindfulness.

3 language learning activities for mindfulness

Sort your notes and colour-code your notebook

A lot of the time, I jot down words and ideas on my language notebook as soon as possible, not to forget them. So my notes are all mixed up: vocabulary with grammar, exercises and writing practice in between rules and idioms.

From time to time, I like to take my coloured pens and to order topics by colour: I draw green frames around grammar rules, little pink circles next to idioms, yellow lines for vocabulary.

When starting a new notebook, then, it’s time to review. I re-write the topics I’m still unsure about in the new one, leave the things I know well and the exercises in the old one.

Practising writing a different script

Though some learners argue that learning how to write a different script by hand is useless nowadays, I tend to disagree.

First, as mentioned earlier, writing by hand helps you remember information better. In the case of a different script, you learn it with the muscles of your hand through repetition. This way, even after a break from studies you’ll still be able to write the characters almost automatically.

And of course, like lettering and colouring, it has an anti-stress effect. You could start a learning session with 5 minutes of this activity, to relax before moving on to more challenging tasks.

Grammar exercises

While grammar explanations can sometimes be hard to grasp, grammar exercises are often based on repetition of a pattern or rule over and over, to help you assimilate it.

This much-neglected task has everything you need to stay present and leave the thoughts that don’t serve you outside. You have to stay focused, to remember the rule and try to apply it correctly. At the same time, you don’t need to understand anything new and your brain won’t be overwhelmed by new stimuli.

There’s nothing like tense drills to empty your head and calm down an overworking mind!

Have you ever thought of any language learning activity as therapeutic? What is the one that calms you the most? Leave a comment and let me know!


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Guest Blogger: Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek and proud Ravenclaw. I help introverts and other quiet learners to keep anxiety out of language learning.

Come say “Hi” on  Hitoritabi.it,   twitter.com/hitoritabi_lang or join me at The quiet language learners’ nest Facebook group.


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Baby Love

The #KindnessMatters Challenge

It’s official! The #KindnessMatters challenge has begun over on The Self-Development Hub. 

Language Learners Journal has been running kindness challenges every December since 2016! We hope to make this December the kindest one YET!  and it all begins with one Random Act of Kindness from you…

According to scientifically proven research, kindness increases oxytocin levels within the body boosting happiness and lowering blood pressure.  kindness is also contagious! Research shows that kindness builds trust, promotes cooperation, and helps bring people together. There’s no denying that one simple act of kindness can bring warmth to the the giver, the witnesses and the benefactors.

Therefore, I invite you to take part in the #KindnessMatters challenge. It’s simple, FREE and bound to make you and those around you happier.

Here’s how to participate:

  • Join the Self-Development Hub community group on Facebook, take the 7 day kindness pledge and do at least one an act of kindness every day for the next 7 days. 
  • Share a status update, a photo (selfies work great!), or video on Facebook announcing that you’re taking the challenge and tag several of your friends. Include the hashtag #KindnessMatters.
  • For the next 7 days be kind and spread positivity and happiness all around you!
  • Optional but recommended: If you’re comfortable share your stories and photographs of kindness to inspire others on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter! Remember kindness is contagious!
  • Spread the word and share this challenge. At Language Learners Journal we believe that kindness matters. One kind act can lead to another and the more you share, the more people will be inspired to help us turn the world into a kinder more caring place. Tag @languagelearnersjoural in your posts and use the hashtag #kindnessmatters.

We’ll feature some of our favorite photographs, stories and ideas on our social media and in this blog post.

“Let’s show the world that kindness is everywhere when we choose to focus on it.”

~ The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

Recently there has been a mega splash of negativity occurring on social media. This can leave us feeling sad and annoyed. I believe sharing stories of kindness and attempting to do something nice for others can help tackle all this negative energy.

It does not take much to turn someone’s day into a better one. A simple smile or compliment can create a ripple that can lead to a huge impact. 

Further reading: Spreading Positivity Through Random Acts of Kindness and 18 Random Acts of Kindness you can do Online

 


Share your progress with the #KindnessMatter challenge in the comments.