Destinations Magazine

How Losing Weight is Like Learning a Foreign Language

By Expatgermany @Laurel_Robbins
learning a foreign language

Photo courtesy of Sualk61 on Flickr

As I struggle to learn German I am finding that in many ways it’s a lot like trying to lose weight.  In other words not a lot of fun, but doable with the right approach:

1) Make It Fun and You’re More Likely to Stick With It: After eight months of intensive German courses, 25 hours a week, plus homework, my motivation to learn German has virtually disappeared and as a result my German has flat lined.  Why?  Because it isn’t fun.  It’s similar to how at the start of each year, with fresh New Year’s Resolutions many people sign up for a gym only to have quit going 6 weeks later.   Why?  Personally, I always feel like a hamster going around in a wheel whenever I jump onto an exercise bike or tread mill.  In other words it’s not much fun, at least for me it’s not.   Would using these machines regularly help you lose weight?  Most likely, but if it’s not fun, sooner or later (most likely sooner) you stop going.  So the same principle applies for learning a foreign language and trying to lose weight – make it fun and you’re more likely to stick with it.  I hate exercising in a gym, but I love hiking, snowshoeing, biking, playing ultimate frisbee and squash.  All of these activities will also help you lose weight and I do many of them on a regular basis because I enjoy them.  When I think of how I can make learning German fun I think of playing games in German, cooking in German, taking a pilates class in German to name but a few ways.  See 5 Fun Language Learning Techniques for more ideas.  In other words activities that I would enjoy doing.  I’ve only recently implemented fun ways of learning German, but already my German is improving and I’m motivated to stick with it because it is enjoyable.  And as an added bonus, I can make a mouth watering White Asparagus Melt (a traditional German dish).

2) Not One Size Fits All:  Just as there are countless ways to lose weight, there are countless ways to learn a foreign language.  Yes there are some commonalities, if you want to lose weight, you must intake fewer calories than what your body requires.  Similarly if you want to learn a foreign language, you must practice it.  But beyond these basics, everyone is an individual and what works for one person, many not work for another person.   In both cases, it’s important to find what works for you and not worry about what everyone else is doing.

3) Both Require Consistency:  If you want to lose weight, you must practice weight loss principles (healthy eating, exercise) on a regular basis.  Doing so on an ad hoc basis will get you limited, if any results.   The same is true for learning a language.  Both require consistency on a regular basis.  If you’ve ever taken a once a week language class you’ll know what I’m taking about.

4) Pace Yourself: Anyone who has done a long distance run knows the importance of pacing yourself so you don’t burn yourself out before the race is over.  It’s more important that you get to the finish line than run really fast at the beginning and not finish.  The same is true for learning a foreign language.  While some experts would advise total immersion, this approach would drive me crazy.  For myself, I find a slow and steady approach is more effective than trying to cram it all in, as is sometimes the case with language schools. In the story of the tortoise and the hare, I am definitely the hare when it comes to learning a foreign language, much to my own chagrin.

5) Lifestyle Changes: Just as losing weight requires small lifestyle changes, i.e. cutting down on soda, walking more, eating more salads, etc. the same is true for learning a foreign language.  Try to speak the new language at every chance you get, listen to the radio in the foreign language, read in the foreign language, etc.  It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach.  If you’re eating healthy most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional scoop of ice cream.  Similarly you don’t have to only read in the foreign language, but perhaps you could read for 15 minutes a day in the foreign language, or watch TV for 30 minutes in the foreign language.  Small changes really do add up both when your trying to lose weight and when you’re trying to learn a foreign language.

And with that, I’m off to my yoga class – in German of course.  Perhaps some of that German efficiency has worn off on me.

You may also be interested in:
5 Fun Language Learning Techniques
Best Way to Learn a Language – Besides Speaking It


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