Language in Bloom

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What Yoga Has Taught Me About Language Learning

I had always wanted to be one of those people who enjoyed yoga, but when I had taken classes before I almost always found myself getting bored, and wondering if class would ever end. I thought for many years that yoga simply wasn’t for me.

Apparently, I had not found the right class yet.

I found a studio that I love, and was lucky to join the studio as it was beginning a challenge in the month of October. That got me into my yoga habit, and I’m committed to continuing to make yoga a regular part of my routine. I try to attend at least 4 classes a week; if I can’t make it to a class, I can do a session at home. I use Fit Star Yoga for my home practice.

I’m not saying that every class or session is my favorite, but I will say that I never regret going to class, and many times I leave class having just made a new connection or felt more inspired to continue my day. Yoga allows me the time and space to reflect on my mental and physical health, and requires enough concentration that I actually don’t think about work at all. Interestingly enough, this time away from thinking about work makes me more creative when I do come back to my desk. More of the benefits I’ve seen since making yoga a regular part of my routine are improved balance (literal balance, like not tripping as often), better depth perception (I don’t run into things as often), more patience, better posture, better concentration, and increased productivity.

Besides these personal benefits to my mental and physical wellbeing, learning more about yoga has even given me a different perspective on learning languages. You might be thinking this is a stretch (pardon the pun!), but hear me out.

1. Just like yoga is a practice, so is learning a new language. 

What struck me from the first week of taking yoga classes was the emphasis on an individual’s yoga practice being completely unique to the individual, as well as I love this use of the word practice, and that is certainly how language learning should be. Individual, and stressing constancy instead of an end result.

2. There are plenty of resources to learn/do it yourself, but it helps to be part of a community.

I am sure you can learn a lot from free yoga videos on YouTube, but for me, the connections with other people who enjoy the practice provide the extra motivation I need to get me on my mat on a regular basis.

This is also true for learning a language—there are a ton of free resources out there, but being part of a community is so helpful for providing accountability and support.

3. A good teacher is essential to learning the basics well. 

Continuing from #2, you can do at-home videos all you want, but having attending a class with a good teacher can give you a solid foundation for your future practice.

Language learners benefit instantly from having a good teacher explain fundamental aspects of the target language; and, classes are the perfect opportunity to challenge yourself to g o beyond your comfort level, because you’ll get instant feedback instead of wondering whether you’re on the right track.

4. Regularly experiencing different teaching styles gives you a richer practice. 

There are many different styles of yoga, and within those styles, individual instructors have their unique approaches to teaching. I’ve tried to attend as many different styles and instructors as possible, because each instructor will focus on different poses, breathing techniques, and explanations. It’s an extra challenge, since it is so easy to pick one favorite instructor and be only loyal to him/her, but I know that varying my practice in the end will only make it richer.

Same goes for language instruction—the diversity in styles, methods, materials, and personality make every language instructor completely unique. I’m constantly amazed at how quickly students seem to latch on to one that they like, and then they never let go. It’s great to establish a connection with an instructor, but not at the expense of your progress.

5. Yoga Learning a language is not for the flexible brilliant, but for the willing.

The studio I frequent has this quote framed in the entryway, and I feel like it is extremely appropriate for language learners. I hear too often from people that they “don’t have the mind for learning a language” or they equate multilingualism to a level of intellect they don’t believe they have. In truth, acquiring a language has little to do with IQ and everything to do with the willingness of the learner to do the work involved.

And my personal favorite:

 6. Wobbling is part of the practice. 

Each of my yoga instructors has said that wobbling is a good thing—if you’re in a balancing pose and wobbling, it means you’re challenging yourself, that you’re exploring your limits, and that you’re taking risks. These are crucial parts of growth, and so it is with language learning. If you falter when you speak, or make a mistake when trying out a new vocabulary word or structure, embrace the mistake as a crucial component of your language growth.

So as you continue with your language practice, embrace the wobble, be willing, establish a good foundation with a capable teacher, vary your practice, and explore how a community can keep you going.

Namaste.

Written by

Tammy Bjelland
Language lover, teacher & coach.

Recent comments

7 responses to “What Yoga Has Taught Me About Language Learning”

  1. This is a great post. I love the connections you drew.

    I started doing yoga a little over a year ago, and I’ve been learning languages for almost 30 years.

    You’re spot on. You have to just get in there and engage. Performance can never be perfect. Constant engagement and practice are the only means and ends. The process is where it’s at.

    One difference between us is that I’ve never been bored with yoga. Another difference is that I always (except one time) have done yoga on my own with a video. I liked the class, but I like a video that’s ready when I am.

    It’s very hard for me to do languages on my own, but I do it because I have to. In contrast, I love doing yoga on my own.

    • tammybjelland says:

      And it’s those individual preferences that really do make yoga and language learning personal practices… what’s most interesting to me I think is how we can have a very strong preference in one area of our lives, and have a complete opposite preference in another area.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Richard! Namaste to you 🙂

  2. If I could be so bold…

    7. Keep a good sense of humor. When you mess up, you might end up unintentionally hilarious. Don’t worry about–have a laugh with everyone else.

  3. […] read another post about yoga and language-learning the other day, incidentally, which makes some other comparisons between the two activities; worth […]

  4. Thanks for this post Tammy – very interesting. Having recently tried yoga myself, I can see the point you’re making here. Another thing I would add to this is that just as learning yoga, learning a new language may initially seem quite overwhelming – you may have the impression that it’s for people who were born with some kind of special ability to learn it, rather than for you, that it’s so complex that you’d never be able to get good at it. However, just as learning yoga, learning a language is about taking small steps, repeating what you’ve learned and then moving on to more complicated poses/language structures.

    • Tammy says:

      Agnieszka, you’re exactly right. That was indeed one of the reasons it took me so long to get into yoga. I used to say “I wasn’t a yoga person” when in reality that just isn’t true, just as it isn’t true when people say “I’m not a language person.”