April 10, 2019

Meditation and Language Learning - A Perfect Partnership

By Greg Thurston

A few years ago I moved to Barcelona and started learning Spanish. It was my first time learning a new language. I didn’t really know how I would cope, but I was up for the challenge.

Well, it was hard. Like EXHAUSTING.

But meditation helped me enormously. Let me explain...

meditation and language learning

To get a Spanish student visa, you have to study 4 hours per day, 5 days a week.

The first morning I climbed the stairs, a little nervous... it was the first day of school after all... (that nervousness doesn’t change no matter how old you are).

Then the moment I walked in the door, they spoke nothing but Spanish. nada.

I appreciate the no-English-allowed principle, and I’m sure it works to get those words into my brain, but I felt my mind was going into panic mode by the time I’d finished paying the receptionist.

I was overwhelmed.

Really, I was stumped. Maybe it’s because in my home country of New Zealand, EVERYONE speaks English. There’s absolutely no need to learn (or even be exposed to) another language, beyond a handful of Maori words to recite the haka (the Maori war dance) before a college rugby game.

My brain wasn’t used to hearing Spanish, and now it was being bombarded for 4 hours every day, plus homework. My tutor didn’t seem to understand that I just didn’t comprehend those words she was throwing at me one hundred miles an hour. And she didn’t relent.

So… every day after class I would trudged down the stairs, feeling like a zombie.

Now, I had previously thought I was somewhat mentally prepared.

At my web-design job I often worked work through the night when the project needed. Sometimes I would work from 9am until 4am the next morning. But I honestly can’t even compare it to that. I was more shattered after just 4 hours of learning Spanish than I was after 19 hours of coding away at the computer.
Fortunately, I had a secret weapon. I had meditation.

How meditation boosted my language learning ability.

So I turned to meditation to and it drastically boosted my language learning ability, my ability to work after class, and my ability to speak better, faster.

Each day I would get home, turn my phone to flight mode, collapse on the bed, and connect with my breath.

And what happened was amazing.

As I breathed in and breathed out, I released the tension of trying so hard to understand.

You know that feeling when you’re trying to hold the thing you’ve just learned in your mind. To not let it escape you. To keep the muscle memory in your tongue.

But the funny thing is… when you release and relax, things start to flow naturally.

The new words stay in your mind, not because you’re tense and trying hard to remember, but just because they’re in there, and when you relax a little, the magic happens. Like at the gym - it's during the process of rest and recovery when your muscles rebuild stronger.

Like magic, after my post-Spanish-class-meditations, I could continue with my day relaxed and refreshed and ready to go again. Ready to make decisions and code do what I needed to do without being overwhelmed.

And the nicest thing was, being in a relaxed state made me naturally think in Spanish… to think in Spanish about the things I was working on… and dreaming in Spanish. That’s an amazing experience... when you start to dream in another language!

So if you’re learning a new language and feeling exhausted, try mindfulness!

And it goes beyond learning Spanish. It’s about mental-overwhelm in general... or mental WELLBEING really.

It applies to whatever you have going on in your life. I’ve heard from people using my Seven Minute Mindfulness Program (the plug) to help with many different challenges, from Foreign Exchange to parenting to high stress professional and management careers.

It gives your mind the space to rest and recover.

I really believe it helped me progress much much faster.

¿E tu? 

Have you had any similar experience? If you like, share it in the comments. I’d love to hear!

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