Your brain after intense learning

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Greetings All!

My first blog post after completing a 7-week intensive French course. I had quite the epiphany towards the last week of the course, before my big exam. This isn’t one of my usual yoga related blogs – this was a lesson in life for me.

Enjoy.

First, this was the hardest thing I ever did. Ever. I wrote a compiler while at university. A compiler to translate the programming language Pascal into machine language. Took me all summer. That was easy compared to this.

I never understood English literature or grammar. I scored so low on my ACT’s back in high school in English that the monkey who took the test was better. Anyone who knows me know that I say that I am a functioning illiterate. I construct my sentences so that they are simple, and I can understand them. But learning French in French? Really fucking hard. I did about 8 weeks of Rosetta Stone before the class (it’s an online app that teaches you to speak) and that really helped. So, I was surprised when I tested into the B1 class after my test. My oral competency in French was at the A1-2 level. But my vocabulary is fairly big, so I got into the B1 class. I decided to really give it a go because I am tired of not being able to communicate properly here. I mean, I am a fairly intelligence and partially educated woman, who has lived here since 2001 and I cannot hold a conversation in French.

It’s 4 hours a day with about 2 hours of homework. At first it was 4 hours of homework because I just wasn’t getting it. You have these plateaus. Where it sucks, it sucks, it sucks, then you get it for a week, then it sucks, it sucks, etc. Rinse and repeat. I had a headache for almost 7 weeks straight. Fortunately, my husband was in the states on two separate business trips, so he was gone about 4 out of the 7 weeks, so I could just really focus on it. And I did. I really gave it a go. And then you start to get it. You can almost hear it. Or you realize while walking through the Migros that you can catch snippets of conversation and then realize you are not sure what language you heard it in. Don’t get me wrong, I still get pissed off while listening to the exercises and it all sounds like a dog barking and I get nothing. During the course, while husband was away, my water heater went out. I had to call the repairman. And I could do it. I could talk to him – not perfectly, and there were things I didn’t get but I can make myself understood and I am not afraid anymore of not understanding. People are really cool when you are really trying.

So, I passed my test on Friday. I went into a cave and studied and wrote and talked my ass off in French. And of course, I totally sucked on the oral part of the exam. I still make these stupid mistakes and lose my words constantly. Or I just don’t have them. Physically I have had a horrible time of it. The day of the exam, I had a fever, went and took the test, passed it, came home and passed out for 3 days sick with fever and a sinus/chest infection.

I did some research because I wanted to know why my head was hurting so much throughout the last 7 weeks. It was like a consistent low-grade buzz, headache, and a fogginess. I kept forgetting things. To eat, to pay my bills, to bring enough yoga mats to my classes, etc. Here’s what I found:

When you are learning something new, you can get foggy in your brain. You can get headaches. Intensive language training seems to be a common activity to cause this, but I remember this from other things I was learning while I was at university or at work. This discomfort is because you are changing the way you think – literally. The neural pathways in your brain are being changed. Old ones modified, and new ones created. Your brain is literally giving you the ability to think faster and more automatic. Think of it like hacking through the jungle with a machete to make a path that has never been walked. And your brain gets tired, it needs glucose (hence my daily dried pineapple sugar craving) and the repair work generally happens during sleep. Also explained why I was falling asleep at 9pm. My big epiphany was when I realized that this effort, this headache, or pain/fogginess in my head was something that I remembered from university and from my job. It would suck, it would suck, it would suck, then I would have an AH-HA moment and it would be ok. So, if nothing else, I realized that learning, I mean true learning, not just copying shit to pass a test, takes a lot of effort because it rewires your brain.

So, if you find yourself in the situation where you are learning something, and you feel like you are in over your head, stay the course and know that it will pass. Give your brain the time it needs to assimilate, process and create those neural pathways so that what you are learning can become automatic. While this is not a blog about Yoga – the same can be said of learning new postures in yoga – give your brain time to adjust to what you are learning.

When I pass my French B2 course, I will translate this into French.

Let me know how you are getting on.

Sources –

Language learning makes the brain grow, Swedish study suggests

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