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High Performance Language Learning – Creative Language Learning Series

You know it’s weird how I forgot the Japanese characters for the word Gyoza until I brushed past a gyoza restaurant by the local station. I wonder what was it that made me remember the characters 餃子. Surely I’ve seen these characters multiple times, but what made me forget in the first place? Maybe I was too distracted on getting some food in the belly, or maybe it was just that…I forgot. But seriously, something about the smell of fried dumplings, spring steam rolls and thick ramen noodles bathed in a chicken broth really does magic when it comes to triggering the memory.

Okay, if I made you hungry just now, my apologies. I made myself hungry too, I think I should go for some… Hmmm, what was it again 餃子?Jeessssh, even seeing the characters now remind me of the perfectly seasoned minced meat stuffed in dumplings.

Why am I going on about food in a language learning article? Well, it’s not just about food – it’s about conditioning ourselves into high-performance language learners.

When we hear the word high performance we usually think of active, intense productivity. But what if high performance simply meant tuning into your environment, senses and the natural world to develop your input sensitivity? I know, I said a mouthful just now but I’ll explain of course.

Have you ever looked at a pillow and thought to yourself “That feels soft, I can imagine myself touching it.”

Have you ever smelled a certain scent and it automatically triggered a memory of a time you were eating out with some friends?

Have you ever heard a certain phrase and you were taken aback to a story you once heard?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then you are most definitely qualified to tune your language learning to high-performance mode. You know when your computer is on battery saving mode, and the screen goes dim to save power? Well, forget about battery saving mode, because this time we are turning every setting to max power and leaving our adapters plugged in 24/7.

 

Using Your Senses To Your Advantage

We have five senses (hopefully everyone knew that already), each with their own special purpose. Touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing. In language learning we use our senses more strategically than anything, but can we really say that we maximize their efficiency?

For instance, we write vocabulary and at the same instance, we see the words written down in front of us. However, what we rarely notice the feel of the pencil or the scents in the surrounding environment.  

In order to truly maximize our language learning, we have to tune in to our senses both on a conscious and subconscious level. We are always using one sense or the other passively, but what if we became aware of the input we receive on a daily basis. We’d then be able to pick out certain details and topics that we’d want to implement into our language learning routine and actively focus on them. The table below will give you a sense of what I’m talking about

 

Situations In Which Our Senses Are Activated In Language Learning
Reading a Grammar Book Have a real conversation in a restaurant A Skype Session with a Tutor Learning In A Classroom
Hear ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Smell ✔️
Taste ✔️
Feel ✔️ ✔️
Sight ✔️ ✔️ ✔️

 

Learning In High-Stress Scenarios and Dealing with Sensory Overload

Imagine you’re walking through the emergency ward of a hospital (yes things are about to get very graphic right now). The sight of blood sends vivid imagery to your brain and even chills down your spine. Death is creeping over the lives of many and there is this feeling of hopelessness you can’t ignore. Your senses are instantly overwhelmed, and it becomes an unforgettable experience.  

I use the above example as a lead into the next topic of this article; Learning In High-Stress Scenarios.

In times like these our memory is put to the test due to the intensity of the situation. We can use such scenarios to make our language learning abilities more sensitive. In other words, being exposed to sensory overloads can improve the efficiency of how we receive helpful input.

Immersion is a perfect example of this since it is either “sink or swim”. But, sensory overload isn’t always an effective method of language learning. You can’t throw a person who doesn’t know how to swim in the middle of the ocean and tell them “ sink or swim”. They would probably just give up and drown. Overwhelming yourself with tons of vocabulary words or grammar notes without being able to build meaningful relationships based on personal experience wouldn’t necessarily be a waste, but there are other ways of building your word lists.

Would you believe me if I told you that there are people in the world who compete in memory competitions? Did you know that an expert chess player can memorize the entire layout of a chessboard in seconds? There are even people who memorize the number pi for thousands of digits. These people aren’t any different from the rest of us. Their incredible memory is due to the mastery of simple memory techniques.

To get the most out of your five senses as they relate to your language learning, you should be learning in context. Learning in context involves taking in relevant chunks of information focused on a singular point in the language. For example, if I were learning the word “apple” in Japanese; I wouldn’t just learn (ringoりんご), I’d try to learn the verb “to eat” (taberu 食べる)at the same time, because what else do people do with apples?

To compare this to the “sink or swim” example, it would be like giving that person a pair of floaties and telling them “good luck”. Now surely they won’t die, but it will still take some time for them to get used to the feeling and movements of swimming.

Okay, so remember when I spooked you all out with the hospital bit? Well, we’re going back there, but not to the emergency ward. This time we’re just going to take a walk around the place and see what we find. Needles, pliers, scissors, children… The list can go on infinitely, but imagine you saw each of those things related to another situation.

 

For Example

A needle going into someone’s arm

Pliers were used to pull something out of a person’s skin

Children sneezing, crying, playing with things on the floor

 

See how all of these things have some sort of context to them? As you begin to become more accustomed to recognizing how certain objects relate to different situations your language learning abilities will be on auto-pilot.

 

Advancing From Bi-Lingual Studies To Mono-Lingual Studies

The idea that you need your first language in order to study your target language isn’t entirely true. Certainly, in the beginning, you’ll need your first language to make connections using existing knowledge, but as you progress things take a turn for the better. When learning words in your first language do you turn to another language and try to figure out what the word means or do you build new connections with stuff you already know? Optimizing your language learning to maximum performance involves cutting out the middle man, which in this case is “translation”. Practice learning content in a monolingual scenario, where you have no access to your first language. Here are some ways in which you can achieve this:

  • Make flashcards in only your target language. The front of the card can have the word or phrase you’re attempting to learn while the back can have a simplified explanation of that word in your target language.

CUT THE MIDDLE MAN OUT!

  • Watch movies in your target language. However, you must turn off the subtitles, even if it’s in your target language. Subtitles unconsciously activate our translation abilities and distract us from the context of the film.
  • Immersion, immersion, immersion! I know we mentioned immersion earlier as a sink or swim scenario, but you don’t have to sink if you have a solid foundation on the basics of swimming. Immersion, in this case, is comparable to training a cat to become Michael Phelps!

 

This Is A Marathon Not A Race

We’ve all heard it before, “Everyone learns at their own pace.” This phrase is especially true in language learning. We all have different strategies and techniques that help us push through this difficult journey. There are also times when progress slows down tremendously and times when we feel like we’re zooming through the language at lightning speeds. Through all of this, the important thing to remember is that language learning is a life long mission. Even after optimizing your learning skills to their maximum capabilities, you’ll always have work to do since language is always evolving. Hopefully, this article has given you some insight as to how to step up your language learning game.

 

Worksheet

High-Performance Language Learning

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