A picture of chopped onions and carrots. Cooking - food for the language learning soul as well as the stomach?

Slow Cooking for Languages

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!

Busy social media accounts can lead to fuzzy focus online

Refinding focus: banishing the online noise

Focus can be a hard thing to find these days.

If you’re plugged into social media, you live in a sea of information. Family, friends, celebrities, politicians, news outlets and more, all in a single pot. There’s something to follow for everyone out there, not least language lovers.

The trouble is that your feed becomes a big mash of mixed messages. And when there’s a news swell around a particular story, you can find your online world flooded with cynicism, negativity and sensationalism. It’s too easy to be dragged down by that.

News saturation

I found myself in this position in 2016. In fact, it had been building up for a while, but 2016 signified a kind of saturation point for me. Maybe you’ve experienced this too; all the stuff I cared about was in the mix – language learning tips, updates from fellow linguaphiles, travel blogs on my favourite (and dream) destinations. But it was drowning amongst the retweets, amongst every Trump, Brexit, or other viral story hogging the feeds that day.

There was too much noise.

Now, I’ve always been someone who likes to keep up-to-date with what’s going on. Friends of mine have dealt with this by imposing a full-on news embargo, which works brilliantly for them. But try as I might, I can’t quite wean myself off current affairs.

Focus on the positive

So what I decided to do is streamline. My big problem with common social media use is the one pot for everything approach. The rationale is that a single source for all your information is simply more convenient. The trouble is, I was losing the stuff I loved amidst the cacophony of news filler. What I needed to do was repurpose my social media accounts to be more one-track, dedicated vehicles for the things that mean the most to me.

Making Twitter fitter

Twitter was the my first pruning victim. I’d accumulated hundreds of accounts in my feed over the years. First to go were the politicians and political parties. Then the news outlets. Then the celebs, and the brands. I ended up with a core of tweeters who were speaking in a language I wanted to hear on the things I loved.

If I wanted to stay up-to-date with any of the ousted mouthpieces, I’d shift them to another platform; celebs I can follow on Instagram, brands on Facebook, and current affairs on news websites. I wasn’t shutting out anything – just reorganising it. I was getting some sharper focus back in my online life.

Brave new world

After the cull, I started to notice something amazing. I was used to Twitter as a place of vitriol, controversy, hyperbole and division. Suddenly, my feed was full of enthusiasm, passion and motivation. Now and again, the odd current affairs retweet would sneak in, but Twitter had become my almost-watertight bubble of language learning joy.

We hear a lot about the danger of filter bubbles these days. But while it’s important to expose yourself to range of views and arguments, you deserve a happy place for the things you love, too. Streamline and organise your social media accounts, and win back a little focus from the mad, racing world.