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Modern foreign languages - Back to basics

For pupils to stay focused, a good diet - and water - are key

For pupils to stay focused, a good diet - and water - are key

Other than learning the words for a cafe conversation or how to order a meal in a different country, you might wonder what food and water have to do with learning a foreign language. But I've just returned from teaching English in Bali, where my students ranged from the ages of 6 to 20, and it was clear that their simple daily diet of white rice - and often little else - affected their learning and energy levels.

Certain foods, such as rice, turn to sugar quickly and give that familiar sugar rush. But this is followed by an energy lull and it was frustrating to see their energy levels plummet. If we eat foods that are lower on the Glycaemic Index - such as nuts, sweet potatoes, fruit and vegetables - they break down into sugars more slowly to provide a smoother release of energy over a longer period of time, so we feel fuller for longer.

Introducing fresh fruit and nuts to my students during lessons made an enormous difference to their energy levels and overall concentration. They were more focused and able to recall new words and phrases easily. Such snacking supports learning because of its nutritional content and it allows students to "chew things over". Offering fruit to students in another language is also a way to immerse them in that language.

When I got back from Bali, I wanted to understand more about how my diet affects my own concentration and focus, so I went on a detox and gradually cut out sugar, wheat and dairy. My intake of fruit and vegetables has gone up and I am still not eating wheat or sugar. I feel healthier than ever, I have more energy and I can concentrate for longer.

The brain accounts for just 2 per cent of our body weight, yet it uses 40 per cent of all nutrients consumed and 30 per cent of all the water the body takes in. Research shows that if the brain is dehydrated by just 5 per cent, the neurotransmitter activity reduces by 30 per cent.

When learning and making sense of new material, the brain works incredibly fast and uses a lot of energy. If it's dehydrated by even a small amount, its ability to retain and recall information decreases. So when you see a pupil fading or their concentration lapsing, the answer may be simple: offer them a snack or a glass of water.

Tanya Moore is a teacher who specialises in accelerated learning. She runs language workshops in London and Bristol.

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