How The Breakfast Table Is Helping Me Learn Spanish And How It Can Help You Too

Learning a new language can be hard. The breakfast table can help.
couple eating
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Learning another language can be as much a challenge as it is a joy. From the countless hours spent crafting and memorizing flashcards to the tedious months bent over a desk struggling to make sense of subtle grammatical nuances, your noble efforts to connect with another culture may not seem fairly compensated for when you realize how long it took you to learn to ask where the bathroom is. Not that you even sound like a native speaker, of course.

But learning a language may be important to you. Studying a different tongue might be a matter of cultural significance, for instance, as it can help you get in touch with your roots or connect with your family.

You might also be interested in the cognitive benefits of language learning. Among other available literature, one study found that those who knew a second language had improved cognitive and sensory processing skills relative to their monolingual counterparts. Such skills are desirable in their own right, and may also be seen as beneficial to an employer.

Or you might just want to learn a language for the bragging rights. Whatever your motivation is, most can agree that studying a language can be a time-consuming and arduous process. That's why it's important to make use of every tool at your disposal. And as strange as this may sound, the breakfast table is one of them.

I'm a native English speaker, but for some reason, I feel inclined to learn Spanish. Although it has been difficult at times, I have made considerable progress, and am under the impression that a language learners should make use of every opportunity they have. Here are some reasons why eating breakfast at a breakfast table is helping me learn Spanish, and how it can help you learn a foreign language too.

Consuming Breakfast Improves Your Memory

It's no secret that the key to learning a language is memorizing an almost incomprehensible amount of information. In fact, many of the world's most studied languages are comprised of hundreds of thousands of words. That's why any additional weapon in your memorization arsenal can be of great importance in your fight against monolingualism.

May I introduce to you: eating breakfast. And while we might all feel better after a rich morning meal, there are apparent cognitive benefits as well. According to one research article, healthy adult participants indicated a small yet noticeable improvement in exercising their memory after consuming breakfast, particularly with regard to their delayed recall abilities.

So while it initially might not seem like an additional tool to take advantage of, studying your foreign language after a satisfying breakfast can be just what you need to help you progress in your language journey. I can certainly attest to the cognitive benefits of a satisfying stack of pancakes. I'm more relaxed, and recalling the different uses of the Spanish preterite and the imperfect becomes a lot easier.

Consuming Breakfast Increases Alertness

But there's more to language learning than memorizing information. In addition to the many parts of speech and phonetic nuances that require time and effort learning, it is essential for anyone picking up a second language to discern and analyze grammatical patterns. Such attention to detail requires particular focus and concentration and is facilitated in part by your morning meal.

As one analysis explains, tasks requiring such cognitive skills were aided by breakfast consumption, with well-fed participants exhibiting greater task performance relative to those who had merely fasted. These tasks demanded attention, memorization, and other critical cognitive abilities from their participants.

It may seem rather obvious, but a steady breakfast can give you the energy and focus you need to tackle those tough language lessons. I could never have learned the different uses of "por" and "para" on an empty stomach.

A Breakfast Table Can Be a Meeting Place to Practice Your Language

But there is more to breakfast than what you quickly shovel into your mouth each morning. A breakfast table can be a place to talk, connect, and ultimately enjoy each others' company. If it's at all possible to practice your language of choice with those around you, I heartily recommend you do so.

Unless you are studying a dead language, such as Latin or ancient Greek, most languages have a strong oral component, and speaking what you know will only further your pronunciation skills. Likewise, trying to make out what others are communicating will work to improve your listening comprehension skills, a key milestone on the path to complete fluency.

Relaying what you know to others can also be an effective fail-safe. Whether it's pronunciation, grammar rules, or what have you, fellow language learners can help guide you in the right direction whenever you make a mistake, which can become clearer when you share what you know with others who are studying your language.

For instance, there was one breakfast in which I misused the Spanish verbs "ser" and "estar". My friend politely corrected me, and I have yet to mistake them since.

Meeting with Others Can Hold You Accountable to Your Goals

It's day nine and you're tired. You've made a bunch of flashcards, and your head hurts from trying to learn how to pronounce the trill consonant. You're just about to hang up the towel when you realize something: you've got another breakfast meeting tomorrow, and they're expecting you to improve from your last encounter.

Having a breakfast language club means being accountable to your language learning journey. It means knowing that, besides yourself, others are expecting you to succeed and improve over time. It's in this sense that the breakfast table can be a good motivator and metric for your language learning success. Every day you will improve, and eventually, that improvement will become apparent.

When I first started studying Spanish, I could barely keep up with my friends, and my conversations were limited to the words "hello" and "yes". I'm not yet fluent, but I can engage with them on a number of topics and my vocabulary has certainly expanded. Besides the extra practice, knowing that I can regularly converse with my friends has undoubtedly motivated me to apply myself.

Setting One Healthy Habit Can Lead to Others

As is often with healthy living styles, one good habit can easily create another. That's why pressing yourself to begin the morning with a healthy habit may lead to others throughout the day. A nutritious meal coupled with studying a new verb tense, for example, may motivate you to get to work early. These new habits may in turn make it easier for you to learn a new language, further aiding you in the process.

Learning Spanish in the morning has given me a routine, and that routine has set me on a schedule I follow throughout the day. In abiding by this habit, I don't as often stay up late to finish off my work or anything else from the day. My sleep quality is, therefore, better, which makes it even easier to study a foreign language.

I don't consider myself a morning person. But enjoying a nice meal with people as passionate as I am about learning another language makes me excited to wake up each morning.

Michael Valeri is a recent graduate of Hamilton College. He enjoys origami, biking, and playing the kalimba. He hopes you like his work.

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