Modern life is busy and full of distractions. The sheer number of tools available to make things easier for us can be too overwhelming. Research studies have shown that as a society our stress levels are going up, and our attention spans are going down!
Not good news if we are trying to learn a language.
However, there is a more holistic way to reduce stress levels and increase focus and attention, and this is via mindfulness.
So, what is mindfulness and how can you apply it to your study sessions?
In a nutshell, mindfulness is about being fully present in the here and now, using all of your senses to fully engage in the world around you with an increased non-judgmental awareness of yourself and others in the world around you.
Students who practiced mindfulness for at least 10 minutes per day for eight weeks had shown physical changes to the structure of the brains via neuroimaging. They also reported on increased levels of emotional intelligence, attention, the ability to focus and a reduction in stress levels.
It makes perfect sense when you understand that mindfulness was designed to train the brain to be more focused, attentive and emotionally regulated.
Ten simple practices that you can build into your daily study routines to boost learning ability.
- Before a study, session take the time to check in with yourself. Ask yourself how do you feel? Are you tired, stressed, anxious, hungry or thirsty? It will impact your ability to learn a language so fuel up, take a catnap or so some relaxation exercises before studying to get you in the best frame of mind for learning.
- Just about to have a Skype tutorial? Take a few moments to stretch out. Release any anxieties you may have by touching your toes or just swinging your arms about your waist. Will allow for a better blood flow before you start your language study.
- Have the resources you will be using just for that study session, turn off any distractions or silence any notifications. Set aside a study period of 20 – 25 minutes, followed by a short break and then another 20-25 minutes of study. Check-in with yourself after the study session or note it down in a journal how you are feeling and any thoughts you may have.
- Negative thoughts? Did you keep telling yourself you can’t do this or you want to give up because it’s too hard? When you notice these thoughts attach a describing label to them such as negativity or sad. Every time you get that thought say “oh hello negativity or sad” and let it pass OR imagine these thoughts passing like a cloud.
- Before during and even after a study session take three deep breaths. Now focus your attention on your breathing. If you have any distracting thoughts, don’t try to judge or control them. Bring your attention back to your breath. It takes practice. It’s essential to get those deeper breaths and enable more oxygen to your brain.
- Listen and do not respond. Turn your head a little, notice the facial features or tones. You don’t have to react straight away take some time to process was has just been said don’t rush to respond.
- If you are in a language tutorial on or offline don’t worry about getting things wrong this is how we learn best! Stay in a state of non-judgment of yourself and the tutor. If you do make a massive mistake, notice it, learn from it and then let it go. Do not judge yourself harshly. Try to find some humor.
- Show self-compassion and be kind to yourself. You wouldn’t be as harsh to another language learner as you can be to yourself. Stay in the moment and treat yourself with respect and care you deserve. Remember Rome was not built in a day.
- Use all of your Senses to regain focus in language learning and fully immerse yourself in the culture. It means using visual and audio tools as well as tools that get you moving and that you can touch. Try cooking a recipe in a target language to stimulate taste and smell too. Teachers used to work with preferred senses, but there is growing evidence that the more input we have, the better we can retain information.
- Journaling is an integral part of learning and mindfulness. Don’t just record vocab. Record your thoughts and feelings too.
Mindfulness takes practice, but with consistency, you will be able to maintain your focus for longer, learn vocabulary faster and enhance your listening skills too.
Above all, you will vastly improve your ability to learn a new language.
In conclusion, mindfulness does not work for everyone, but a significant finding from even the most robust studies is that there are very few negative impacts. For an understanding of risk in mindfulness read the Oxford Mindfulness Centre’s article: Is Mindfulness Safe? If you are concerned about your well being, please seek support from a healthcare professional.
 Marlatt, G.,& Kristeller, J.L. (1999). Mindfulness and Meditation. Miller (Ed.), Integrating spirituality into treatment (pp. 67–84). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.