Exercise and Learning: How Can Physical Activity Support Language Learning
Exercise and learning is a combination that may sound counter-intuitive, but that may provide you with the extra push you need to take your Spanish to the next level.
Keep reading to learn why scientists believe that physical exercise and learning are related and how engaging in aerobic exercise while learning a foreign language can improve your memorization of new vocabulary words.
At the end of this post, I’ll introduce you to a learning technique that integrates gestures to improve your language learning process.
Exercise and Learning
Perhaps you’ve never thought about it before. I can tell you that, as a teacher, it never crossed my mind, but apparently doing exercise improves your ability to learn.
A series of different studies have consistently shown that exercise and learning are somehow connected. It seems that exercising “alters the biology of the brain in ways that make it more malleable and receptive to new information.”
That process is called plasticity and scientists are starting to better understand how it actually works. However, scientists now consider that “physical activity during learning improves that learning.”
Exercise and Language Learning
But, what about physical exercise and language learning? Does exercise during a language lesson improve your ability to learn that language?
Those questions are important because scientists know that by the time you become a young adult your brain displays less plasticity in areas related to language. However, research suggests that exercise improves memory and learning of new vocabulary.
One study showed that “concurrent physical activity enhances learning a completely unfamiliar L2 vocabulary as compared to learning it in a static condition.” In the study, two groups of students were shown flashcards in a new language but one of the groups was riding a stationary bicycle while doing so.
As expected, the students riding a bike did much better when tested on the flashcards. According to the researchers there’s no question that learning a foreign language vocabulary while doing exercise yields better performance than learning it in a static situation.
Exercise and Learning Benefits
Once the connection between exercise and learning has been proved, what are some of the concrete benefits that you can get from mixing physical exercise and learning a language?
Well, scientists believe that mixing exercise and learning in the classroom improves your memory and ability to retain new information, improves your ability to learn as physical activity has a strong influence on synaptic plasticity and the creation of new neurons.
Which means that the benefits are many and varied. Let’s dig a little bit deeper in some of them.
Effects of Exercise on Memory and Information Retention
One study conducted by researchers in Italy and China showed that students who engaged in physical exercise and learning of a new language at the same time performed better on vocabulary tests than students that remained static. They also were able to recognize better proper sentences.
However, in the study these improvements in memorization lasted for a longer period of time and showed that the exercising students were able to understand better how to use the newly acquired vocabulary.
Research has shown that vocabulary learning can be up to 20% faster when taking place after engaging in high-intensity exercise. Suggesting that high intensity exercise and learning may be the secret mix for improving your language learning process.
Aerobic vs Anaerobic Exercise
When it comes to exercise and learning, not all exercises are made equal. As research has shown that aerobic exercise such as running, swimming, or riding a bike, “can enhance children’s ability to recall vocabulary words.”
However, the situation is different when the type of exercise students engage in is an anaerobic one, such as CrossFit. In the study linked above, anaerobic exercise didn’t have an effect on word learning. Actually, students that practiced aerobic exercise and learning improved by 13% in comparison to the students that engaged in anaerobic exercise.
So, if you were planning to give it a try and start mixing exercise and learning, just make sure to choose an aerobic type of exercise.
Integrate the Body’s Motor System in Your Learning Techniques
I’m aware that this heading sounds quite technical and complex, but let me explain because I found this study quite interesting.
A section of our brain called the motor cortex is responsible for controlling the body’s voluntary movements. Now, researchers have shown that it can also help to translate foreign words into your native language.
The interesting part is how scientists discovered that. After four days of learning a foreign language by performing semantically-related gestures, a group of students heard the words and were asked to translate them. However, scientists interfered with the motor cortex of some of the students who in consequence weren’t able to translate the words.
That proved to the researchers the importance of the motor cortex in translating words and the value of performing gestures for learning new vocabulary in a foreign language. This means that not only a combination of exercise and learning helps you improve your language learning skills, but also using learning techniques that integrate the body’s motor system can produce the same results.
Combine Exercise and Learning and Improve Your Spanish
If you really want to improve your Spanish you may start thinking about which kind of aerobic exercise and learning combination will fit you better. Because there’s no one single way of learning a language, we all learn in different ways, and every little piece of help that can get you closer to your goal of becoming fluent in Spanish should be considered.
The good thing about exercise is that it doesn’t only help you to learn a new language, it also brings a lot of benefits to your physical and mental health, as well as your intellectual ability. On the other hand, learning a new language improves your cognition and decision-making abilities, which makes mixing exercise and learning a foreign language a powerful combination.
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