How Surf Lessons Helped Me Learn 2 Foreign Languages ​​(and the Science Behind It)

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Imagine yourself in a foreign country, learning Spanish, French, English or Italian. Every morning you go to a class and then you spend the afternoon completing the homework assigned to you. Learning to structure sentences, expanding your vocabulary, and practicing good grammar begin to take control of your life and your free time. The problem is that being abroad while learning a new language is supposed to be fun, while this routine is not.

Several research projects have shown that exercise clears your mind, which actually makes it easier to learn a new language. Scientists suggest that being active throughout the day while learning stimulates a process called plasticity. Recently, a study compared the activity of two groups of Chinese students learning English. In one group, students took their standard classroom lessons while another group was sent out for 20 minutes of cycling before class and then continued their rides on stationary bikes while English words were displayed on a screen in front of them. When both groups were given quizzes about the day’s classes, the researchers found that active students not only scored higher, but also consistently retained proper sentence structure better than sedentary students. So, aside from the combination of exercise and learning that just seems like a lot of fun, it turns out that associating a new language with surfing is actually beneficial.

So imagine yourself now in Montañita, a beach town in Ecuador. You’re there to learn Spanish, but the fact that you can surf four or five times a week makes it so much more fun. Coincidentally, some schools are taking advantage of this, offering the chance to study a new language in places where you can also surf.

I’m a Dutchman who struggled with English years ago, so I decided to spend some time in Australia, making an effort to immerse myself in the language. The first 10 weeks passed slowly and my English didn’t improve much. Then I was given the opportunity to take a surf lesson. I teamed up with two classmates and we were all hooked right away. The surf instructor clearly had experience teaching foreigners, and since the lessons were so much fun, we started to like speaking English while surfing. We started to see that once back in class, we had more fun with our English lessons. We were suddenly more motivated, wanting to improve our English so we could have better conversations with our surf instructor and get more tips that would get us into the waves.

A few years later, I decided to take the same approach to learning Spanish. I didn’t need surf lessons anymore, but I was looking forward to getting out there and having conversations in the queues in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. I was able to meet other traveling surfers, locals and the whole experience ended up boosting my learning curve for a new language again.

After these two experiences, I can say that surfing does more than free the mind. There is a social aspect that will encourage you to learn and the science that supports your ability to assimilate a new language.

To note: You can find out more about the Surfawhile herean online travel agency offering programs combining surfing and learning Spanish in eight different countries, French and Portuguese.

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