Learn English online with a little bit of sweat

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Jelena Mamula, Online English teacher at Acadsoc.

Jelena Mamula, Online English teacher at Acadsoc.

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Right after the New Year’s Day in 2018, I paid a visit to my health counsellor, Rena, who is my best friend as well. I could not fall asleep and probably got insomnia for almost a month since early December 2017. As usual, Rena began with asking how I felt when working as an online English teacher at home since it is my only job at the moment. I chose Acadsoc, just to make myself some extra income when I will be able to take care of my kids. That’s the benefit of working from home as an online English teacher, yeah, as they promised and claimed when I applied.

After hearing my story, Rena thought for a while and then ask me one last question: When was the last time that you did some exercise? no matter outdoor ones or in a gym. Well, the air around us seemed frozen and I remained silent, thinking really hard, trying to recall when exactly was the last time of exercising. Unfortunately, the latest one as I could remember was in September 2017, right before I joined Acadsoc and become an online English teacher. Rena smiled and simply told me, ‘I won’t suggest you use hypnotic or any diet, just go get yourself some fresh air outside.’

I followed her advice and ever since then, I will spend roughly 30 minutes every day jogging in a park near my living place. It is not necessarily 30 minutes, but I have to make sure I am sweating before the stop. Gradually, my sleep quality improved and I successfully lose weight. As you may know, as an online English teacher, I have to sit and stay at my workstation for hours in a day. Usually, I won’t have time to exercise and the quickest way for teachers to finish a meal in maybe 30 minutes or 1 hour’s break between classes is Pizza or other junk foods. And of course, I could tell I kept growing fatter and fatter day after day when I never realized that was a bad sign for my physical health.

And every time I meet my students in classes, the first question from me will be ‘Did you take some exercise today?’ And their answers are different from one another. When most of my younger students will take some exercise every day, maybe playing basketball, badminton…Adult learners and university students are less likely to do exercises regularly and I can understand they are carrying a heavy burden in feeding their family or finding a good job. In the past, I never link learning English and doing exercise together or think there is anything related between two of them.

Nevertheless, I realized there can be a potential relationship thereafter observing the performance of one of my loyal student, Tom.

Case Study: Tom, and his NBA dream

The first time I met Tom, it is a bit dramatic. I can still remember, he was the only trail student that night in my class table. Seems normal, to me, it was just another trial class, where I shall try my best to make the kid engaged and then enrolled. However, I realized it was a different situation when I heard some noise before the class began. I heard a slap in the face and then an adult yelled something, sounds angry and really loud. A few minutes later, Tom appeared in the webcam, when actually he was already late for our class. He looked tired, resentful, carried with tear-stained and sweat on his face. The rest 20 minutes was like a jail to him, sitting there when his parents were bystanding and supervising our class. We only finished several very simple conversations before I had to end the class because Tom seemed to resist having such a class with me.

Afterwards, I finished my work that day and went to bed. I never expected Tom would enroll at Acadsoc, definitely against his will. However, I was shocked the next morning when I heard from my supervisor that Tom had enrolled…I should have been happy, but I felt guilty. Fortunately, the second class I had with Tom was about sport, more precisely, about NBA.

Still, he remained silent in most cases, but I can tell, from his eyes, that he is interested in NBA. Therefore, after class, I extended a bit and ask him, ‘What kind of sport do you play?’, ‘Basketball.’, ‘How often do you play basketball?Every day?’, ‘Yes’, ‘Do you want to be a basketball player in the future?Maybe in NBA?’, ‘Yes’, ‘Do your parents support your dream?’…

play basketballI never get an answer to the last question, but I suppose I know the answer. Tom, according to his parents and his performance in our class, got very poor scores in English tests. And that’s why, by blaming him playing basketball, his parents paid a lot to put him in different kinds of after-school tutoring for English, Math, Chinese, etc, which is quite common among his classmates. I felt so sorry for the 12-year-old kid, but the only thing I can do, as an online English teacher, is to try my very best in improving his English level. And I made it, finally, I gained his trust by spending my time chatting with him, about NBA games and players he loved. I even shared some interesting videos for him from YouTube about NBA.

Tom was a bit naughty and full of energy. He struggled a lot in learning English, but he never gave up as I told him, English is the very first condition for you to join NBA. Tom loved to engage in the games/project I designed and ask questions whenever he is confused, even ask them in Chinese. Every time in our class, he remained energetic and active, learning new things and making significant progress really fast.

In most cases, he attended my classes after finishing school, actually, after finishing his basketball game (his parents did not know that because they were often busy at work and not around). Firstly, I was worried that Tom may feel tired, exhausted or easily distracted in my class, but no, to my surprise, he was highly concentrated. What’s more, compared with other students with me, he can stay focus and energetic for a longer time. As I can remember, the longest class we had, required by his parents because it was nearly his mid-term exam, was 2 hours in length, back to back. For most of my adult learners, they have to ask for a break after 1 hour’s class. Tom and I seemed to be crazy, having such continuous classes without any break in the middle. But Tom did not disappoint me. When it came to the end, a bell rang in the system, he could still recall and remember what I taught him in the first 25 minutes.

As I assumed, it must be his IQ or talent which helped Tom made progress so fast. However, it proved I was wrong. In late December, when Tom was about to attend the final exam of 2017, things have changed. Though Tom had made a huge progress in English test, his scores in other subjects failed to satisfied his parents. As a result, he was locked down in his house all day and night except for schooling. To prevent him ‘wasting’ his time in playing basketball after school, his mother came to school to pick him up every day. From then on, the Tom I knew was gone. He pretended to be energetic as before in the first few classes. But finally, he laid down his arms and told me he could hardly concentrate in learning anything. What’s worse, he easily became sleepy in the middle of our class, which never happened before.

I searched on the internet, with tons of questions and I finally found something, which can be an explanation to Tom’s case.

Doing Exercise May Help Language Study

According to the latest research, physical activity during the process of learning the foreign language increases the capacity of memorizing and understanding new vocabulary. This research doesn’t only provide new information on learning languages but it also proves that for more complex mental processes we should be physically active.

In the last couple of years there have been a range of studies related to physical activity and studying or memorizing and each study has shown that the learning process differs when we are physically active during one.  This was first established based on the behaviour of lab rats which showed significantly better memory ability while they were running. The same conclusion was made when the students achieved better exam results if they were physically active while they were taking the tests.

Although we don’t have the precise answer to this question yet, scientists believe that exercising alters the brain making it more open to the new information. But many questions are yet to be answered, such as – which are the learning mechanisms, when does the exercise have the biggest influence – before, during or after learning, as well as which type of exercise is the most useful.

The researchers from China and Italy decided to do a research on language learning of adult students, and this study was published recently in PLOS One. The participants of this study were Chinese people who were learning English for months. Riding a stationary bicycle was their exercise. The participants who were riding a bicycle during the process of learning were better at acquiring new vocabulary than the ones who were learning without any physical activity.  Apart from that, they showed a better understanding of sentence structure which enabled them to successfully apply the acquired knowledge.

However, it still remains a mystery what is actually going on in the brain and why do we benefit so greatly from exercising. The purpose of this study is not to suggest introducing stationary bicycles in schools. Learners can take care of that themselves if they want to. What is actually important to stress, is the fact that static learning for a longer period of time is not the most effective learning method. It seems it would be a good idea to combine the two useful activities – learning and exercising…in a way that suits us best. Happy learning!



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