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Get your diet right: How language learning is like eating

Each of us has a dark secret. You may have stolen a crayon from a friend in kindergarten, or told your auntie she looked great in that blue dress… my dark secret is that I used to work in a health and wellness company.

When everything revolves around the subject of fitness and diet, you start seeing the whole world in relation to this topic. I have to admit, it does help you gain a new perspective. For instance, did you ever notice how much eating has in common with learning languages?

Let’s look at your language nutrition!

Bingeing is not good for you

Do you remember that day when you rushed out without breakfast? Something important kept you from eating lunch and you ended up not eating until dinner when you wolfed down an amount worthy of a dragon and got a stomach ache afterwards. You can’t make up for not eating the whole day in one meal and, it is also impossible to fill yourself up for the next few days.

Similarly with learning. Studying a lot in one go will make you feel tired and a lot of what you have been studying will not be absorbed. It is also possible that doing that creates an association between the feeling of tiredness and language learning which will discourage you from repeating a language session the next day!

It takes time for the knowledge to sink in and if you take too much at once, your mind will reject the excess.

To alleviate that problem why not…

Consume a little bit, but often

Now, I don’t know if any of you tried to change diets, but whether you are trying to lose weight or simply eat healthier this is the first rule you’ll hear: eat smaller meals, but more often. Small, but frequent meals make sure your body is being nourished all the time and performs evenly—and at its best— throughout the day without the spikes and lows triggered by less frequent meals.

Plan your language tasks in advance to avoid hard decisions in moments of weakness. It will be much easier to conquer the temptation of skipping grammar revision for the benefit of another anime episode. Invest time in forming a step by step plan for language learning.

Spreading your language studying throughout the week (or even throughout the day) enables you to absorb better the material from each session. You will not feel a study overload and may even end up looking forward to the next shot session 😉 Keeping in touch with the language helps develop a habit of regular learning and makes it easier for the brain to switch between languages.

Don’t binge! Little “language-meals” aid knowledge absorption.

Use your calories

Why do people get fatter over Christmas? Because holidays usually mean less activity and more eating. By the law of thermodynamics, the unused energy simply remains inside it and gets conserved as fat.

You can think of your language acquisition being like calories. Before you start consuming them, think what you are planning to use them for—how you’re going to burn them.

How are you planning to employ the language in the future? When setting off to learn, plan how you’re going to make the particular skill work for you. Learning vocabulary just for the sake of it will go to waste. Why not choose 10-20 new items of vocab and try to use them all writing a children’s story? If you spent the last learning session drilling pronunciation, maybe it’s time to talk to someone on Hello Talk or try singing a favourite song.

Caution! Overconsumption of language-calories will not get stored in a designated brain area for excess language.

Don’t let language calories accumulate! Use what you learn.

Add variety to your meals

When I was little, I could only eat pasta with tomato sauce. I probably could still do so now and this time there is no adult to stop me. Now, however, I understand that in the long run this kind of diet is not good for my body. In order to supply ourselves with all the necessary nutrients we have to consume varied meals.

You may naturally be an outgoing person and have no problems speaking a foreign language. Because you prefer talking, you skip learning vocabulary. True, you are practising an important skill, but without broadening your vocabulary your choice of conversation topics will remain restricted to small talk.

If your goal is to learn the language fully, you should “cover all the bases”. Reading, writing, listening, grammar, pronunciation/speaking, vocabulary are all equally important parts of the language. Make sure your study routine incorporates exercises aimed to train each of these fields.

Note: Of course, if your studying is goal-specific (perhaps you’re addressing a vocabulary-deficiency?), then more emphasis should be put on that aspect.

Make a careful choice from the menu

Think of that time when you were in a restaurant, thought you’d give seafood another try and ended up wasting money on a dish you didn’t eat… With a big menu to choose from, it may be hard to know what to pick. Some options sound very appealing, but you know from past experience that you wouldn’t enjoy them. Slightly confused, especially in a new restaurant, I sometimes prefer to ask the waiter for recommendation.

There is a vastness of language resources out there and it becomes increasingly hard to choose one most suitable for us. Before committing to anything, give a few books and apps a try to check what method is most enjoyable for you.

You are the one who understands yourself best—if you know you get bored watching explanatory videos, don’t go for a video course. And if you’re not sure where to begin the resources’ testing, why not use recommendations of the experts as a starting point?

I hope this short post will help you improve your language diet. Let us know your thoughts on Twitter!

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