Over the past few months, I’ve found dozens of amazing resources for learning Spanish: Skype language partners, online games, free TV shows, music, language learning communities, podcasts…
In addition to all of this computer-based learning, I also have some fantastic grammar books (Yes, that’s right. Grammar books. That are fantastic. That I enjoy doing.) and a mid-sized pile of children’s novels.
I’m absolutely enamoured with Spanish right now. In fact, I’d rather say me encanta el español, because I can’t think of an English equivalent that has quite the right feel to it.
There’s a problem, though: I’m always sitting.
My job – a mix of group language classes, writing, and online and face-to-face tutoring – is relatively sedentary. And now my hobby is too. I feel like I’m always staring either at a screen or at a page.
My body doesn’t appreciate it. My back is starting to complain. My butt is starting to widen. Twice-daily dog walks, frequent stretch breaks and regular exercise aren’t enough to cancel out the hours and hours of sitting.
I’d love to find ways to make language learning itself more physically active – not to take more breaks while learning, but to learn and move at the same time. This would obviously be much easier to do in a total immersion environment – I could take dance classes or go on group hikes or just meet a friend for a walk and a chat. Even a local Spanish-learning buddy would help.
However, I live in a vast expanse of farms, cows and hardware stores. There isn’t a thriving Spanish community here. Trust me, I’ve looked.
So here’s the challenge: find ways to make self-studying a language less sedentary and more active.
1. listening to podcasts or audiobooks while walking, cycling or cleaning the house
I love to be outside. I hike or cycle whenever the weather allows it. I walk twice a day, every day, no matter the weather. I love the idea of multitasking and working on my listening skills at the same time. Unfortunately, I have a stupid Windows phone (*mutter mutter*) which isn’t compatible with any apps or podcasts, so I can’t download anything. But I use my phone’s wifi connection to listen to Notes in Spanish in the house while I’m puttering.
Incorporating more podcasts and audiobooks into your language study is an easy way to make learning more mobile.
2. standing instead of sitting
My husband and I are – ahem – vertically challenged. We bought a house built by and for giants. So our kitchen counters are the perfect height for standing and working. I try to do the bulk of my sedentary Spanish work standing at the kitchen counter. If you’re not a short person living in a tall person’s house, then it’s easy enough to rig up a standing desk using boxes or milk crates on your regular table.
Standing while doing ordinarily sedentary activities goes a long way towards reducing the negative impact of too much sitting.
I read about this technique by the polyglot Dr. Arguelles on the How To Learn Any Language forum. The basic idea is to walk briskly while listening to a dialogue and repeating every word a split second after you hear it. I see the value in this, and I know that lots of people enjoy it. There’s just one problem: I really didn’t like doing it. Still, it’s worth trying if you’re looking for a more active approach to language learning – and I refuse to give up on it forever. Maybe I just haven’t found the right materials yet. I plan on trying it again for a future blog post.
If you can make it work for you, shadowing combines serious language study with physical activity.
4. doing target-language exercise videos
I have to admit that this suggestion makes me laugh – mainly because the idea of doing exercise videos in any language makes me twitch. I’m more of a go-outside-and-play type. But I’d definitely try it!
An exercise video in your target language could help you get fit – while improving your vocabulary.
5. watching target-language movies while walking or running on the treadmill
The treadmill isn’t my best friend. Again, I’d rather be hiking, paddling or cycling than running on a human hamster wheel. But I do turn to the treadmill in the dead of winter, when the snow’s up to my knees and the windchill is -30C. I have access to a few Spanish-language movies – Volver and Pan’s Labyrinth are both available from the library – and many movies that I can watched dubbed. While we have an ancient treadmill in the basement, I know that there are a lot of gyms that let you choose what you watch – consider bringing your own movie or flipping to a target-language channel.
That human hamster wheel can make movie-watching an active rather than sedentary activity.
Aside from the standing desk, all of these solutions focus more on listening than on any other skill – and that’s perfectly ok. There’s no such thing as “too much listening” when learning a language.
Out of all of these approaches, I think that the most appealing one – for me – is to listen to more podcasts and audiobooks while on the move. So that means that I need to replace my crappy Windows phone with either an Android or an iPhone. Right? Right? Now, if I can just convince my provider to let me out of my contract a year early. I mean, it’s obviously for a good cause…