Teaching A Language With Yoga
Gopala Amir Yaffa - Rainbow Yoga
Do you speak a second language?
Spanish? English? Japanese? Chinese? Italian? French?
Here is your chance to share it with your community and provide them with the gift of being exposed not just to a new language, but a new culture.
Or do you have more than a few newcomers in your school or neighbourhood?
With yoga, you can share with them coping techniques as well as the local language they need to adjust to their new environment.
We can use yoga to teach anything, including languages!
What better way is there to learn than moving through it?
When we teach languages through yoga we use all of our senses such as hearing, sight, touch and movement.
We call it experiential learning. We move through the lessons learned.
This multi-sensory approach helps the lessons learned “stick” better in our brain and be ready more easily for quick access because we create a lot more neuro pathways than we would in traditional auditory and visual learning.
What are the disadvantages of learning through movement? Cognitively, not many.
The brain loves to move, and physical movement has a positive impact on mood, memory, motivation, and engagement. For a taste of some of the research that supports movement and learning, click here, here, or here.
Still not convinced? Harvard, Oxford, and other big-time universities around the world are hosting conferences that focus solely on the link between movement and cognition. The evidence is clear: Movement supports learning, and a lack of movement can actually inhibit learning.
Knowing that there are tremendous advantages (and tons of research) to getting kids out of their seats, where should we start?
If you are not accustomed to classroom movement, start small. Start by having your students stand and stretch, lead a quick game of “Simon Says,” (or we call it “The Yogi Says”) or combine some breath with movement to re-awaken those young brains.
Incorporating movement into your lessons keeps the students engaged and excited about learning. Movement in lessons will also help your students to retain the content more.
Envision a classroom with a teacher at the front talking as students sit at their desks listening. Some will listen patiently and naturally absorb the words the teacher is saying. Others will strive to comprehend, while many will become bored and begin to find more interesting things to do. Perhaps they will play with their supplies, they might fidget with a toy, distract a neighbour, or even take out a cellphone.
But what if they didn’t have the opportunity to get off task? What if they didn’t get bored because we put them to work? This is why we want to engage them in activity and put their mind and body into the learning. That’s what movement can do in our lessons!
No matter the age or the content area, the benefits of students moving enhances the learning process.
When we teach a language through yoga we use a technique called Transitional Bilingual Education. Students begin receiving instruction mostly in their native language with just a bit of the new language. As the lessons progress, gradually more and more of the new language is introduced with the goal of eventually weaning the students off the native language and beginning to learn entirely in the new language.
In a bilingual yoga class, we gradually introduce, one layering on top of the previous one, the following areas of vocabulary in the new language:
- Greetings and encounters (hello, goodbye, good morning, thank you, please etc.)
- Animals and Nature
- Body parts
- Directions (right, left, up, down, forward, backwards, east, west etc.)
- Movement (stop, start, walk, run, skip, dance, jump etc.)
- Relationship (mother, father, grandmother etc.)
- Health (I’m hurt, it hurts ____, I’m hot/cold, bathing, brushing teath etc.)
- Food and around the table
- Restaurant, Market, Store
- At home
- On holiday
- And more
The gradual transition from the native language to the new language helps the students stay confident as they keep learning to converse in the new language.
In Rainbow Yoga, we usually work with theme-based class plans. So while students gradually learn a new language they also learn about the environment, the world and their own physical and mental well-being. While we go through that theme of the day, students pick up some specialised related vocabulary as well.
In our classes, we also use a lot of drama techniques to engage the students. Drama has multiple uses in education:
- It addresses and activates bodily-kinesthetic, visual-spatial, linguistic-verbal, musical, as well as interpersonal and intrapersonal learning, resulting in significantly increased student engagement and enjoyment.
- It facilitates the development of empathy and critical thinking skills as situations are reflected upon and discussed.
- And specifically for our topic here, practices in drama enrich the teaching and learning of a language by facilitating the advancement of fluency, helping students to embody language meaning (through movement, mirroring, and emotional catharsis), which results in the acceleration of communication skills in the new language.
We utilize the body, voice, imagination, concentration, and cooperation to practice all four components of language learning:
- and Writing
Singing is also a great way to enhance the learning of a new language. Who doesn’t like to sing and dance to an upbeat song?
Singing requires the movement of the mouth and lips. Add dance to the song and you have the whole body actively engaged, from the brain in your head to the toes on your feet! An ideal situation for learning to be cemented. If you can’t find a song to fit your lesson, write your own!
Games are a big part of how we create interaction and maintain engagement in our yoga classes, here are a couple of specific yoga activities to help with learning a new language:
- Yoga Vocabulary - Vocabulary can be challenging for all students. Even students who make 100% on the vocabulary quiz can’t effectively use the words a week later. To help students internalize meanings, we attach movement to the vocabulary words.
This technique is well worth it because students take ownership and really have to think about the words, process the meaning, and develop a movement that corresponded.
Here’s how you do it:
Students work in small groups to come up with a yoga pose that matches each word from a small set of vocabulary words specific to the theme of the class.
The words and movements are practised and reviewed repetitively. They are even taught by each group to the other groups.
Each group can also proceed to create a story using the vocabulary words and related yoga poses. Groups perform their story to the class.
For example, if the lesson is about the water cycle, then the class would be using their bodies to represent the sun, rain, and evaporation. This helps students associate a new word or concept in the new language with something they are physically doing. They are putting it in their long-term memory because they will remember swirling their fingers around to form clouds etc.
- Rainbow Circles - Another go-to strategy for us has been forming two circles, an inner and an outer one. We divide the students into two groups by taping on their heads or shoulders alternating saying Dolphins and Mermaids (or whatever two names suit your theme of the day). All the Mermaids form a circle facing outward, away from the centre, and hold hands with each other. Then we have each Dolphin stand in front of a Mermaid and form the outer circle, facing inwards, holding hands with the other Dolphins in their circle.
Then each Mermaid and Dolphin that are facing each other share their responses to a prompt or question. After they share, all of the mermaids and all of the Dolphins take a little step to the left and viola! We all face the next Mermaid or Dolphin in the circle.
This is an effective way to get students talking and learning from multiple classmates and it is great for practising greetings or asking and answering questions starting with what, when, how, where, how much etc.
- Yoga Obstacle Course - A great way to create experiential learning is by posting several tasks around the room and prompting students to rotate and complete each task. The students are up, moving, and energized. The students feel motivated to work as they are moving around the room rather than solving the same problems or completing the same tasks at their desks.
Each station in the Yoga Obstacle Course will have yoga poses involving using a prop or a prompt, a breathing exercise or something fun - All using a word or words from the new language and all related to the theme of the class.
Think like Dora The Explorer with each station involving a sentence and an action such as “read the map”, “cross the bridge”, “climb over the mountain” etc.
- Walk And Talk - An easy way to get students moving during lessons is by having them walk and talk. Students are given a prompt or question to discuss, and they have to walk around the room with a partner sharing their ideas. This is a fun activity for students because they get to spend time with a classmate, and it gives them time to think about what they want to share with the whole class later on.
You can also have students walk randomly around the room and whoever they meet while they walk, they stop for a moment, shake hands and share a greeting or ask and answer a question in the new language.
Easy to add yoga poses here when stopping. Make those poses related to your theme to complete the experience and help make more neural connections.
Attaching a movement to vocabulary or to forming sentences in a new language is a fantastic way to get kids up and moving while learning. The bottom line is that when we invite students to be part of the learning process and engage them, they become connected and invested in what is happening in the classroom.
To summarise, incorporating movement into your language learning can be a game changer. It can:
- Engage students A LOT more!
- Increase comprehension, processing and retrieval of information
- Provide formative assessment
- Decrease unwanted behaviours
It’s a winner!
So vamanos, let’s do it!