All the learning experiences that I design at French Sunnyside blend French acquisition and mindfulness. Mindfulness and Languages, a strange combination, you say? Look at it more closely, and you’ll see… Today I’m sharing with you 4 ways in which mindfulness can improve how you learn French.
1. Knowing why
Watch the YouTube video here
Practicing mindfulness helps you connect with the deepest reasons why you learn French. As I keep noticing, most learners identify their motivation for learning French at a superficial level, whether it is extrinsic or intrinsic. For example, you may say you’re learning French to be able to travel to France and speak to the locals (intrinsic). Or you may learn it in order to get a job offer abroad (extrinsic).
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
The difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is usually well-known amongst the language learners, but let me insist.
If your motivation for learning French in extrinsic, you’re likely to meet some difficulties on your path to fluency.
This is because extrinsic motivators are not strong enough to keep you going when you meet obstacles, such as “lack of time”, “a Netflix show”, or the paralysing fear of making mistakes. You must find a stronger, deeper connection to the language if you wish to pursue that road successfully.
Intrinsic motivators come from you. They give you an inner reason why you should be doing this. Having a personal reason to learn French obviously makes the task more enjoyable and the goal more attractive than extrinsic motivators. But is it enough to keep you out of your comfort zone? Is it enough to let you take risks? To bravely face your fears of rejection and of sounding ridiculous? To let you take your eyes off of the destination point and focus on the road instead?
In my experience, no.
The deeper reason why
What I have observed, after 15 years as a language teacher, is that when you only connect to an intrinsic motivation at a superficial level, it only gets you so far.
Students will typically keep taking lessons, month after month, without taking too many risks of stepping outside their comfort zone, forever indulging in a soup of French that is understandable but not to the level of their expectations.
What helps learners go the long way is connecting to a deeper, often subconscious reason why. And there is always one.
You see, languages, they’re not just a fun thing to do on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun, especially if you’re a geek for words and etymology, like me. But let’s dig a little.
Our common human traits
Languages are the way we human beings express ourselves, connect to ourselves and connect to each other. Languages express how we identify and belong to a group, as small as a nuclear family and as large as the human kind. We speak its language, and therefore we understand and relate to its culture, its history, its mentality. We are one of them.
In my workshop in Nice during the Mindful French Retreat 2019, we learned about mindfulness for and through French. Together with the participants, we explored their motivations. and after a few moments of hesitation, each of them was able to identify theirs. And guess what? It was always related to their core values.
Some examples of deeper why’s
- Identifying with loved ones who speak / spoke that language;
- Raising to a challenge and being committed to progress;
- Being part of a community of language learners;
- Or more specifically, a community of French speakers;
- Connecting to yourself and the world;
- Gaining security in who you are;
- Developing self-confidence in life through self-confidence in your language;
- Freeing yourself from language barriers for inner and outer exploration;
- Expressing your authentic self outside of your own cultural expectations;
- Relating to and being accepted by a culture;
- Healing from your own traumas.
In fact, I’ve heard many testimonials of learners for whom learning French, and learning languages in general, was a real life therapy. I find this absolutely fascinating because it’s my story too and the direction I’m giving to my programs, retreats and 1:1 sessions.
Be aligned with your core values and identity
As in Life Coaching, before even starting to set goals and deadlines, you must identify your core values and your core identity. This, in turn, will help you express your broader purpose in life.
If you set a goal that has nothing to do with this life purpose and is not aligned with your core values/identity, you will most likely lack the motivation to reach it. You will find excuses, you will fall victim to the inner chatter. You will meet obstacles that you won’t have the strength to overcome.
It’s completely normal and there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Why would I keep practising bungee jumping when it terrifies me and doesn’t serve my purpose of helping people overcome their stories?
Likewise, if learning French is linked to what you value in life and possibly your bigger purpose, you will have a very strong connection to this activity. You will have a very powerful reason to keep going, even when it’s hard. And we all know it sometimes is.
How to access the subconscious reason why you learn French?
Why don’t you journal about it to see what comes out?
Take a few deep breaths and allow your body to relax. And ask yourself: What am I trying to achieve in this life? Why is French so important to me? What will I be able to do once I’m fluent in French? Who will I be able to connect with? What am I trying to express? How do I feel when I’m learning French? What does it mean to me? Let your soul tell you what it wants without any filters.
2. Being present
What is mindfulness?
Back to mindfulness in its stricter sense. What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the practice of becoming present to ourselves and to everything around us. That’s it. The way you practice it varies from “formal practices” such as meditation, to “informal practices” such as savoring, connecting to your senses in any situation of your daily life, doing yoga, journaling, etc.
Why is being present so important?
Because it allows you to leave the past in the past, and the future in the future. That means that whatever happened in the past, you know you won’t be able to change, so you let it go. And whatever may or may not happen in the future isn’t really in your control right now, so you decide to trust your future self that he/she will be able to deal with it. Then you come home to yourself, in the present, which is the only moment that truly exists. It’s the only moment in which you can take action.
Of course, mindfulness is not about “erasing” the past or the future. These are part of our human experience, and we must draw wisdom from the past and plan for the future. But it helps you not being stuck in the narrative of the past, neither in the anxiety of the future.
Leaving the past behind when it comes to learning French
I’ve had a bad experience at school. I’m sure many of you can relate to this one.
I was a little girl, maybe 8 years old, and my teacher, Madame Donc (still remember her name!), was an angry woman. She had short blonde hair and a red face. And man, she could scream! She would yell at us any time we made a mistake. I remember being terrorized and becoming sick to my stomach at the idea of going to school. Yes, this is a traumatic experience MANY people have gone through. But it’s in the past.
If I’m not mindful, I could let that past experience linger into my present. Unconsciously, it may determine my reactions to any learning practise, or it may make me absolutely terrified of making mistakes, sending me straight to a fixed mindset mode for the rest of my life.
With mindfulness, I can recognize the trauma, accept that it happened and slowly disengage from the emotions that my younger self went through.
With mindfulness, I can let it go, and possibly bring more compassion for this overworked depressive and alcoholic teacher, as well as for myself, knowing that it was harsh and had nothing to do with me.
This is what “letting go” means: making peace and preventing the past from determining my future.
Dealing with anxieties for the future
Likewise, I tend to be a little bit of a perfectionist at times. That means, for example, that when I plan an event, I want to go over every detail several times, and I tend to imagine every possible worst case scenario, in order to already have a B plan in mind, and a C plan… just in case.
Same goes when you’re preparing to have a conversation with natives, or hitting the « record » button during your Mindful Speaking Program.
But guys, seriously. What a waste of energy and time!
The probability that something which you imagine “might happen” is actually going to happen is so low that it’s useless planning for it. Maybe something bad will happen, yes. You will probably make a mistake. Or a thousand mistakes. But it’s most likely going to be about something you didn’t even think of. And it’s unlikely going to be a question of life and death either.
So instead of worrying on what could be, what should be, mindfulness reminds us to concentrate on what is.
Because that’s where the magic happens.
3. Accepting what is
Another very common obstacle to progress is a wrong evaluation of the actual state of things. We wrongly assess our levels, we wrongly assess our goals, we wrongly assess our priorities and we wrongly assess the time that is available to us once we’ve taken care of our jobs, loved ones and homes.
Why do we lie to ourselves?
This doesn’t happen because we’re stupid, it happens because we have an ideal image of how things should be. Especially when discussing our goals with someone else, like our French teacher. It’s like our egos want to show that we are willing to do the work, that we are good students, and ultimately good people.
So we describe a perfect situation. Ideally, I’d love to be able to work on my French 4 hours a day. I want to actually be at a B2 level now that I’ve been learning for 100 days. In my dreams, I’d go from A2 to C1 in a year. And taking risks and getting out of my comfort zone won’t be a problem, of course.
But it’s not the truth. And the truth is super important to find.
Find the truth
What is your real level of French?
No matter how long you’ve started learning it, no matter the promises of the previous books and methods that you have followed, assess your real level of French by mindfully asking yourself the following questions. Can I write in the language? Can I have a conversation with natives? Is it a basic conversation or can I exchange on philosophical concepts? How do I find reading authentic texts in French? What about listening to podcasts and movies?
A French certificate is not the real goal
Obtaining a certificate is sure nice, but it is only a by-product of your journey.
If you’re in this to collect a certificate, you’re not learning for the good reasons. Your motivation is lead by your ego. It’s not a judgment. You are human and so am I. The ego is an important part of your mind and it created to protect you from hurting. You cannot and you should not get rid of it.
However, it’s important to be aware of when it’s your ego that is leading you because it will also prevent your authentic self from doing what truly matters to you. It will prevent you from taking risks. Ergo, you won’t get out of your comfort zone and you’ll find excuses.
Repeat after me: A French certificate is not the real goal!
Assess your priorities
Having your priorities straight is a very key element to a happy and balanced life.
What part does language learning have in your life? What are the other areas in your life that require your attention and time? Make a list of your priorities, starting with the most important one and finishing with the least important one. Your weekly calendar should reflect that.
Here’s what my list of priorities looks like:
- Mental and physical health
- My daughter and the rest of my tribe
- Career and all that entails
I start my day by waking up early to take care of my physical and mental health. This makes about 3,5 hours of my day, every day. Then, I’m completely present for my daughter, who I homeschool 4 hours per day. Finally, I’ll dedicate 5-6 hours per day to my job.
Now I can assess how much time I really have for language learning. As I consider it as part of “mental health” and I journal in the languages I’m learning, it will be part of my morning routine. However, I’ll also give it an extra 30 minutes a day when I take a break for example, plus additional time for reading or watching movies in my target languages at the weekend.
This is all I have. I don’t have more time. I may want to spend more time working on languages, but I don’t because it’s not as important as the other priorities in my life. See it’s not so much a question of time as a question of priorities. But once you put in on paper, you can see things clearly and accept the reality as it is, instead of as you imagine it should be, and work with that.
Because the truth is that consistently spending 30 minutes a day is enough. Especially if you do so mindfully, without being distracted.
The myth of multitasking
I don’t know about you but when I was a young adult, I heard this myth that women were so much better at doing several things at the same time because of our specially-wired brains: we could do two or more tasks at once, such as cooking while talking on the phone and having a eye on the baby playing in her crib*.
Most of the time, the pasta would be overcooked, the friend on the phone would have to repeat her story twice and the baby will have almost escaped her crib several times.
Multitasking is a myth. No matter your gender.
It doesn’t make you more productive, it makes you waste time.
*Sorry for the sexist example, but this was my actual life at some point in the past.
Consequences of mindless multitasking
Research has shown that when you do several things at the same time, like for example listening to a French podcast while you’re answering your work emails (you recognize yourself, don’t you?), your brain is paying attention to the emails for a few seconds, and then to your French podcast for a few seconds, constantly switching between the two activities. Meaning that at no time will you be fully concentrated on neither. (Source: Alina Tugend, « Multitasking makes you lose… um… focus », 2008 in The NY Times)
As a consequence:
- Writing that email will take you in average 35% more time than if you had done just that;
- You will probably miss half of the message in both the email and the podcast, and your mind will make up the rest by projecting meaning, which may or may not be accurate;
- And you will also most likely feel stressed, overwhelmed and in the long run, burned out.
Mindfulness teaches us to be present to ourselves and to our activities, doing one thing at a time. That’s what we call “uni-tasking”. And it is life-changing because it allows you to live every experience of your life spent on earth to the fullest.
How to implement in life and for French?
Next time you go for a walk, just go for a walk, with all your senses. Observe what’s around you. Feel the wind on your skin, in your hair. Feel the ground supporting your steps. Smell what there’s to smell. Listen to the noises, the subtle ones, and the loud ones. Be present, and experience how much richer this walk becomes.
When you cook, just cook. Look at the colors of the food, think of where they came from, of who picked them for you, how they arrived on your cooking table. Feel their texture, smell their flavour. Give it your undivided attention.
Technology and learning French
When you’re having a French learning session, do only that. Put your phone in “do not disturb” mode, tell your tribe you’re not available, and do only that. It also means no Netflix show in the background and no Instagram by your workbook.
Putting your phone on silent mode is not enough because your eyes will catch the notification, your ears will hear the vibration. Even I can hear the vibrations of my students’ phones during our online meetings…
Not a big deal? Sure… But your brain will be distracted for about 10-15 seconds. Imagine if that happens 15 times. Plus, it will also prevent you for entering the flow.
But I’ll tell you more about that another time…
Mindfulness and Self-Awareness are amazing tools when it comes to designing a more balanced lifestyle, but also when designing a more effective French learning journey. As you may imagine, the 4 ideas that I shared with you today are only a small part of how mindfulness can enhance your language learning experience. But they are a good starting point. Once you implement them, I’m sure you’ll be able to notice a difference. And please, let me know and share your impressions in the comments.
Also, if you too are using language learning as a kind of therapy, please contact me! I’d love to connect and possibly interview you for this blog!