Exercise & Foreign Language

Newsletter | Sep 1, 2017 | Hook Law Center

While exercise and learning a second language may not be at the top of your list of priorities, a new study may shed light on how people acquire new skills and how learning and can be enhanced. Learning is a continual process which enriches us at every stage of life. Scientists already had lots of information about animals and people and how exercise improved their learning capability and long-term mental acuity, but the latest study decided to examine how exercise could facilitate the acquisition of a second language. Learning a second language becomes more difficult after childhood when the brain begins to lose plasticity. Prior studies have not come to any conclusion about what types of exercise are best, or when they are optimally performed to have maximum impact.

The researchers from China and Italy recently published their results in PLOS ONE. Using 40 college-age males and females they designed a control group and an experimental group. The control group would learn in a traditional fashion—seated and in rote memorization sessions. The experimental group, on the other hand, rode stationary bicycles at 60% capacity for 20 minutes before instruction began and throughout 15-minute segments of instruction. Both groups were presented vocabulary on a large screen, paired with pictures. 40 words were given at each session, and there was some repetition of the material. After a brief rest, all completed a computerized quiz. The trial lasted over a period of two months, and eight different groups of words were presented. The results were significant for those in the experimental group. Those that exercised while learning had higher learning rates on simple vocabulary tests, but more amazing, was the fact that they were also more skilled at recognizing entire sentences, though the latter skill did not manifest itself until after several weeks of instruction. In addition, the experimental group’s learning gains persisted a month after instruction ceased, as compared to the control group. In the interim, there had been no direct teaching.

The implication in the real world is this. According to Dr. Simone Sulpizio, a professor of psychology and linguistics at the University of Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan, Italy, and a co-author of the study, ‘We are not suggesting that schools or teachers buy lots of bicycles. A simpler take-home message may be that instruction should be flanked by physical activity. Sitting for hours and hours without moving is not the best way to learn.’ More studies will be needed to get specificity on what types of exercise yield the best results in learning new skills. However, one can undoubtedly conclude that exercise causes the release of neurochemicals in the brain which, in turn, causes new brain cells to grow and new connections between neurons. This is the essence of all learning—new pathways are acquired, and the brain is changed forever. (Gretchen Reynolds, “How Exercise Could Help You Learn a New Language,” The New York Times, Phys Ed section of Well, August 16, 2017)

Ask Kit Kat – Pets & Harvey

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, how is Texas dealing with all the stranded pets during Hurricane Harvey?

Kit Kat:  Well, they’re doing amazingly well, for the most part. One man, Joe Garcia, made sure his aging German shepherd, Heidi, was not left to fend for herself. After loading his belongings in a plastic tub and getting it aboard a rescue boat, he went back to his flooded home in Spring, Texas (north of Houston) to get her. She’s a large dog, but he maintained her head above water, and they both safely boarded the rescue boat. In another case, Belinda and Scott Penn, also of Spring tried to stick it out in their home with their 2 dogs—Winston and Baxter (a West Highland terrier and a Shih Tzu, respectively). They retreated a while to their 2nd floor, but after a day like this, they decided to take advantage of a rescue boat. Wading through high water with the dogs at their hips, they arrived at Belinda’s mother’s apartment in Woodlands. Ms. Penn commented, ‘Every situation is different, but for us, it was not an option to leave our pets behind. They are my best friends.’

Other pets have been rescued by Good Samaritans. A woman in Corpus Christi posted on social media that she had taken in a neighbor’s dog which had been left in the backyard. A photographer for The Daily Mail rescued a dog he found chained to a pole in Victoria. In Dickinson, a reporter from CNN rescued 2 retrievers floating in an unattended boat.

Shelters have been set up to take these abandoned animals. In San Antonio, for example, as of Monday, August 28, two hundred animals have been sheltered. More are coming. The San Antonio shelter is in an air-conditioned warehouse. Cats, thank goodness, were taken to a separate location. Whoever had that idea got it right—cats get very nervous when they hear barking dogs.

There is such an influx of animals to be cared for that arrangements have been made to take animals already in the shelters before the hurricane to shelters in other states. On Tuesday, August 29, a flight full of cats and dogs left San Antonio for New Jersey. On Wed., August 30 another flight took a plane full to Seattle.

The efforts of those in rescue services have been heroic. Recovery will take a long time, but at least it is good to know that our furry friends were not forgotten in the chaos. (Matthew Haag, “Saving Pets is Paramount for Many Fleeing Tropical Storm Harvey,” The New York Times, August 28, 2017)

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