Nature is nurture for me. There are many stresses in modern life, but when I can spend even 15 minutes in a natural environment, I begin to relax and deal with things more effectively. This is a beautiful article showing how nature is used for wellbeing in many areas of the world. Even if you don’t want to read the very interesting article, you can enjoy the lovely images.
I’m very interested in how the brain takes in new information, and how to improve the learning process. I always encourage students to learn more about their brains, to better understand how to learn well. There are a few things that I do regularly, based on what I’ve learned about the brain so for.
- Ask students to talk about “what’s new”. This builds social skills, but it also allows them to practice using vocabulary they already know, and to expand on that vocabulary with new words, expressions and idioms that relate to their everyday experiences. I hope that this regular activity will also encourage them to “English” any of their everyday activities, since they know they’ll have to share something with the class.
- Work on exercises individually, review with a partner, then correct the exercise with the whole class. Good students will also do the connected workbook exercises after each class. This provides several repetition and reinforcement opportunities since we rarely learn something new, the first time we’re exposed to that information. It also allows connections to be strengthened between existing and new knowledge.
- Individual, narrative writing that connects to each new subject area, as well as grammar. Again, this allows students to reinforce new knowledge, connect it to existing knowledge, and expand their “English” thinking about the current subject. As students write, I collect their writing, edit it, and send back the writing that all of the students have done, so that they have a grammatically correct “template” for expressing themselves on the subject. Also, this provides reading material that is interesting, and not too challenging for students to read independently.
- Regular “fieldtrips” to go use the target language in a real, yet safe and enjoyable environment. This means visiting restaurants or grocery stores when learning about food, a nearby gym while learning about staying in shape.
I hope that these various methods are helping students to incorporate their language learning as quickly as possible! Please share any other tips and tricks that have helped you to learn or to teach a new language.
Click the link below to see what scientists are saying about the brain.
Tim Ferris is a very popular author, blogger, and podcaster. He’s a person who’s described as a “life-hacker” because he’s constantly trying to find a more effective way to live. I really admire his high energy, his enthusiasm and energy, and his zest for life. His books, “4 Hour Body”, “4 Hour Work Week”, and “4 Hour Chef” are all best-sellers. I don’t read or listen to a lot of what he publishes because he writes and speaks a LOT. However, I’m so glad that I took the time to read this message. I encourage you to take some quiet time when you aren’t surrounded by curious people, to read what he’s written here.
Suicide affects everyone. Even if you are one of the very rare people who has never wanted to give it all up, you know people who have. Tim was planning to be one of those people at a very stressful point in his life, and he was systematically planning the end of his life. Take time to read about what and how he changed his mind, and what helps him to avoid that plan on an ongoing basis. What he says here is really important. Even if you are “high on life” right now, reading what he says can help you to help someone who is depressed and discouraged.
Some more useful resources:
I believe that everyone should take suicide prevention courses, just like almost everyone takes First Aid at some point in your life. You never know when you will be the “first responder” who finds someone who is actively suicidal, or who has just attempted suicide. It doesn’t take too much time (about 2 days) to take a course, and you will be so glad that you have learned about what to do and say. I know that I have probably been in this situation at least a handful of times.
Somebody decided that today is the most depressing day of the year. I think it was a travel agent who wanted to sell winter vacations, but possibly someone thought that it’s very difficult to survive the winter, and people are very impatient by now. In my opinion, today is a fantastic day. As you can see in the picture above, the dark part of the day is already much shorter, since the sky was turning red at 0630 hours. I exercised with friends before starting the day, walked to work, and my students are full of good news today! These are 2 great stories that I saw about happiness today: one video, and one article. What’s something that you can do to be happier about your life? One thing that I recommend is to try to see new stresses and challenges as opportunities for learning and getting stronger. When we look back on hard times in our lives, we can always find lessons that we learned, as a result of our difficulties.
My students often roll their eyes when I tell them (again!) how important it is for them to go have adventures when they have free time. It can be very stressful living in a new place, using a new language, and being away from friends and family. It often seems that going out and doing new things will only add to that stress. However, science and my own experience show repeatedly that adventure enriches your life, and makes everything in it more possible and more enjoyable. It’s true that it can be expensive to do new things, but if you commit yourself to trying something, you will usually find a way to make it possible. Perhaps you can’t travel the world, but you can join a travel group and enjoy the photos and adventures of other travellers, or you can join Couchsurfing and meet or host travellers from around the world. Before the New Year begins, make 3 promises to yourself for 2015, to do something that will bring you great joy.
The good news is that learning another language is always good for your brain! Go to a coffee shop, store or restaurant where you can hear another language. Change your browser settings on your computer to another language. Listen to radio ads in a new language: it’s like vitamins for your brain!!
There are always new ways that you can improve your language learning, if you feel like you are stuck. For a movie to learn, I strongly recommend “The Princess Bride”, one of my favourite movies of all time. It’s currently available on NetFlix in Canada, so you ca watch it again and again. There is some challenging vocabulary (“Inconceivable”), but everyone speaks fairly slowly and clearly, there is a LOT of action, some very memorable lines, and there’s a little bit of everything in the movie.
Researchers found that the process of learning a language and acquiring a wider vocabulary has the effect of stimulating the same part of the brain as having sex or eating chocolate.
Scientists from Spain and Germany found people who expand their vocabulary trigger a part of the brain known as the ventral striatum, a pleasure centre that is activated when people are involved in activities such as sex, drugs, gambling or eating sugary foods.
Researchers from Barcelona’s Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute and Otto von GuerickeUniversity in Germany conducted trials on 36 adults who participated in gambling simulations and language-based tests.
Scans carried out after the tests, showed that both activities stimulated the same parts of the brain.
The study also seemed to confirm the belief that learning a second language helps to keep your brain sharp as you age.
The University of Edinburgh detected a pattern of slower mental decline among the bilingual in a group of 835 born in 1936.
Those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities in their 70s than their peers.
“Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the ageing brain,” one of the authors of the study commented.
“Those with higher myelin concentrations – or a better connection to the reward area – were able to learn more words. The main objective of the study was to know to what extent language learning activates subcortical reward and motivational systems,” said Pablo Ripollés, PhD student at Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute.
The researchers now hope to use results from their study to develop new treatment for people with language-learning difficulties.
This post highlights a lot of the ideas that I think are really important for learning, such as embracing mistakes, instead of fearing failure, making a long-term commitment, and including play.
Play creates new neural connections and tests them. It creates an arena for social interaction and learning. It creates a low-risk format for finding and developing innate skills and talents.
The differences were staggering. With the same amount of practice, the long-term-commitment group outperformed the short-term-commitment group by 400 percent.
In my experience, when students are having fun, they feel like they are in a supportive environment, and they aren’t afraid of mistakes, then their learning happens very quickly (and pleasantly!).
For teachers and for students, it’s really important to know as much as possible about the brain and how it works, so that we can get the most out of learning time. For me, some really important experiences that enhance learning are ones that incorporate movement, art, music, discussion, and storytelling. Read the article to learn more about why these are important.
We all want to be happier in our lives, and we are lucky that so many scientists are looking closely at what will improve or reduce our happiness. Here’s an excellent essay, as well as an excellent speech about ways to improve happiness. It’s a great subject for a compare and contrast essay, as well as an excellent area for us to research for our own lives. The essay says: “So instead of chasing happiness to the extremes, we may be better off pursuing happiness calmly and rationally.” Arianna Huffington says, “Modern science has really validated everything that philosophers and spiritual teachers have said about how giving is a shortcut to happiness. Now we have the data to prove it.”
I saw on Twitter and at http://englishbyluka.wordpress.com/ that researchers played vocabulary to students after they went to sleep. It included words that they had just studied before going to sleep, but they remembered those words better than others who stayed awake to study longer. It’s worth a try, if you can sleep while you play your English lessons!