I’m rubbish at cooking.
Don’t get me wrong – I can follow a recipe and whip up something edible if I really have to. But I’ve never had the creativity or passion in the kitchen to be an Ainsley or an Akis. I’m much more of a food-taker than a cake-baker.
It was a bit out of character, then, as I bookmarked scores of cheap, hearty recipes to experiment with lately. I guess it’s a sign of the times, first and foremost. With talk of widespread price rises and shortages, and it just seemed like a canny idea to get a handle on some proper home economics. Out with the ready-made, in with Lentils 101 Ways.
But what has this got to do with language learning? Well, cooking over the past few weeks has one unintended but fantastic side-effect on my studies.
It slowed me down.
Language Learning – Fast and Slow
My concentration when studying can be skittish at the best of times. I put it down to an active, inquisitive brain, serving up a mixture of excitement (for what I’m learning) and impatience (to plough through everything at once). But whatever the cause, it leaves me with an attention span I have to rule with an iron fist, lest it get the better of me.
That makes certain language learning tasks quite difficult, not least listening. Podcasts, for instance, have to be short and snappy (or easily chunkable so I can pause and come back as I need). Hands need to be away from the controls so I don’t resist the urge to skip or switch (the language podcast equivalent of sofa-bound channel-hopping). And I need to step away from the computer screen and all its tangential distractions. That will start innocently enough, of course. I’ll look up word in an online dictionary, mid-podcast. But then, I’ll fall down a rabbit hole of links as I completely forget the episode playing in the background.
So, imagine my discomfort when rustling up some lentil gratin on Wednesday evening. I switch on a podcast to listen to while I prepare dinner, and settle into my prep. Deep into chopping and prepping, I feel that urge to jump on – but I can’t. Nope; hands covered in garlic and onions, I’m bound to the chopping board. A captive audience. All I can do is take a deep breath, and stifle that urge.
Kitchen activities, it turns out, are a fantastic aid to my concentration when working with audio materials. You’ve heard of slow cooking – well, this was slow language learning (in the best possible sense). And, what’s more, it works with all those audio books I’ve downloaded and not found time to listen to yet, too.
Sometimes all we need is to slow down and smell the cooking.
What slows you down and trains your focus? Let us know in the comments!
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