Learning a new language or subject is known to keep the brain healthy, with one study by researchers at Lund University finding that it actually makes the brain grow. It definitely works the other way around as well, with good physical and mental health being key requirements of learning. To successfully pick up the vocabulary, grammar, and fluency required by your target language, aspects such as working memory, focus, and mindfulness, are key. If you are a student wishing to do your best at upcoming language exams, how can you ensure that your state of health helps you achieve the academic goals you set?
Nutrition and Learning
Several studies have shown the importance of good nutrition for learning all types of subjects – and these findings apply to language learning. One study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that children consuming a healthy diet (comprising seasonal fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains and unsaturated fats) had better reading skills. Another study published in Child Development found that children who live in situations of food insecurity are less ready to learn than those coming from homes that are food secure. You have probably found that it can be difficult to concentrate in language class or remember what you have learned when you haven’t had a good breakfast or you are hungry. Ensure meal planning is a priority, and stock up on healthy, seasonal foods, foregoing sugary and processed ones. This will keep sugar levels stable throughout the day and avoid lethargy and fatigue.
Nutrition and Brain Development
If you eat healthily, most of your vitamin and nutrient needs will be fulfilled, but if this hasn’t been the case lately and you have a big language exam coming up, or you want to keep your memory in optimal state, supplementation may be ideal. Many studies have shown that specific vitamins are important for brain development – including Vitamin D, Thiamine, Folic Acid, Calcium, Magnesium, and Zinc. If your doctor recommends supplementation, make sure to rely only on recommended companies. Some vitamins contain toxins that can actually harm your health, while others can contain very low doses of vitamins, thus making little difference to your health. Ask your doctor to recommend the right brand and dose, but also aim to consume the vast majority of your nutritional requirements from your daily diet.
Sleep, Concentration, Alertness, and Memory
Language exams often have various components, including comprehension, listening, writing, and oral fluency. In the lead-up to exams it is important to keep protect your working memory, to ensure you understand instructions and are able to think on your feet. Studies have shown that quality sleep – an important part of your overall health – is key to ensure you are alert and focused, and to keep your memory in good condition during exams. Thus, those who are sleep deprived find it harder to focus and to think on their feet. A study by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center showed that sleep helps us improve our results in tasks involving memory. This is because our cerebellum (a part of the brain that controls speed and accuracy) is more active after we have enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
Stress and Your Health
Battling stress on a daily basis has a negative effect on our health, putting us at a higher risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Stress also hampers our ability to learn and memorize, two key functions involved in language learning. A study by researchers at the University of California-Irvine found that short-terms stress lasting just a few hours can impair brain-cell communication in the parts of the brain involved in learning and memory. Previous studies had already shown that long-term stress lasting weeks or month negatively affect our ability to absorb and retain information.
If you have an important exam coming, or you simply wish to retain more new words and phrases as you learn a new language, make sure to make your general health a priority. Start by feeding your body the fuel it needs to face your daily challenges. Don’t forget to feed the mind as well, keeping stress levels down and getting a good night’s sleep without fail, to boost alertness and memory.
— Written by Jane Sandwood, contributor at Mondly