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The Art of Movement Edition 73: Language Learning - What Has It Got To Do With Performance?

PARK CIRCUITS: Join us Tuesday 25th July - 6:30pm, Turnham Green, Chiswick.


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Edition 73: Language Learning - What Has It Got To Do With Performance?

At the start of this year, I wrote a list of activities that can help maintain or enhance physical and psychological health (with varying degrees of scientific certainty attached to them, which we explore along the way). Some of these things I personally have only taken up in recent years, while some I have been doing since I was a little boy. The one we will discuss today is something I have always been a little bitter about - the fact I didn't grow up chin wagging in a foreign language. I wish the state school system or my parents had forced me (and others) to consistently learn a language from the start to finish of my childhood so that I could be somewhat fluent in at least one language by adulthood.

Yes, I managed a C in GCSE German after doing 5 years of 30-40 minutes a week 30-40 weeks of the year. However, in a London state school, these lessons were far too brief to be effective, and mostly in one ear and out the other, with a rowdy class and no real purpose to the learning other than our German exchange trip in year 10 (which felt more like a jolly up with my lack of consolidation of the language). I finished year 11 firm in the knowledge I wouldn’t continue learning German in adulthood - as an immature boy, I didn’t love the sounds of the language when I spoke it and felt like ‘no other country speaks German’ (I hadn’t done my research) ‘I’m going to be limited in where I can use it’.

I subsequently completely lost all connection with foreign languages until I moved to North Carolina for a year to play college ‘soccer’ in 2013 and ended up living with a teammate who was from Costa Rica. For all I despise about the governance of the USA, the number of Spanish speaking television channels (mainly NBC Deportes for the football) was a blessing, and meant that my boy Nacho could regularly have native speaking sports channels on while we were hanging out. This led to me picking up the odd word or phrase from him here and there, and by the time I moved back to London at the end of the year, Duolingo was downloaded, I had found myself some podcasts, and I was at the start of my Spanish learning journey.

You would think then that soon enough, I became fluent, speaking Spanish for the rest of my days and only referring to beers as ‘cervecitas’ - but no…

Sure I can have a broken Spanish conversation, but funnily enough, language learning is a slow process when you aren’t consistent, don’t live in a country where people speak it, and don’t engage in regular conversations with the ones that do. If there’s one thing that I have learned over these 9, very intermediate years, it’s that total immersion is the only way.

So, what has this got to do with performance?

Well, there is plenty of research to show that if you are interested in preserving your brain health, growing and maturing as a person, and improving your ability to execute psychological tasks at a higher level, learning a language is a brilliant forward step to take. Cambridge research has discussed the effects of language learning on:

  • Academic performance

  • Concentration

  • Memory

  • Communication skills

  • Creativity - including problem solving and decision making

All of these things correlate with improved physical performance, whether that is in the gym, competitive sport, or every day life.

Consciously or not, every time you research how to plan your workout, or look up an exercise technique, or undertake a personal training session. You are engaging in an educational experience. You are absorbing information you either didn’t know before and are learning for the first time, or you had previously forgotten and are re-learning. Enhancing our ability to absorb information more quickly and effectively should be a no-brainer not just for physical performance, but also in our work and social lives for the sake of self-improvement.

Improved concentration allows us to be more present and psychologically engaged both when we take on information and when we execute actions. Enhanced memory allows us to recall crucial details of retained information to improve quality of execution.

Communication skills are obviously one of the most important things we will ever learn in life. Improved communication is of the highest importance for those who play competitive sport, but also if we are looking to improve our lives on a social and holistic level, whether that is better conversations with those we love, better dialogue with colleagues and bosses, or creating better networks outside of our jobs. To think that learning a second language could have this large an impact in a person’s life is quite incredible.

I am determined to become fluent in *at least* Spanish, and maybe more languages after that. I've been chipping away slowly off and on for years, but I'm ready to give it a huge concerted effort - and (if the research is anything to go by) who knows, maybe in later life my brain will thank me for it?!


“Empieza a aprender un idioma AHORITA tonto” - Gabs


That’s all for this week! Check out my Patreon channel for video episodes, on-demand workouts, training programmes, training guidance/advice and more!

Thank you,


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