So, er, can I blindfold some of you, please? In the nicest possible way…

No, the continued pain and frustration of my naughty back haven’t driven me mad.  But while I’ve been mostly lying face down on my bed (interrupted by a delightful trip to the Netherlands made possible by the loveliness of Louis and Wendy and some remarkably high dosages of powerful drugs), I’ve been reading.  When the drugs haven’t turned my brain to mush, that is.

And one of the most interesting things I’ve read was a book by David Rock called ‘Your Brain at Work‘.  In it, he mentions a professor called Norman Doidge who focuses on neuroplasticity – the way in which the brain creates and strengthens new neurons and new neurological connections.

Now here’s the interesting bit – Professor Doidge (whose book ‘The Brain that Changes Itself‘ I’ve just ordered) reports studies that show changes in people’s auditory cortexes when they’ve been blindfolded – even for just a few minutes.

Yes – shut off your visual input, and your auditory cortex starts to change extremely quickly.

Stop seeing, and you’ll start hearing more – and I think it’s probably a fairly safe bet that those changes will make a difference to a learner’s ability to understand a new language.  We already know that you need to go through a process of listening to a lot of your target language before you can decode it in real time – it seems a reasonable hypothesis that the more you focus on your listening, the faster that process will be.

So, when Louis publishes Lesson 07 of Course 01 of SaySomethinginDutch, I’m going to listen to it with a blindfold on (however many raised eyebrows I get wherever it is you buy blindfolds).

And I’d be extremely interested to hear what you think if you decide to do some SSi lessons with a blindfold on.  It’s wildly unscientific at this stage, of course – we’ll need to get some good numbers of people doing intensive two days mini-courses with and without blindfolds before we even have grounds to think it would make enough of a difference to be genuinely valuable – but any individual input at this stage will help me decide if it’s something we should carry on playing around with, or put to one side for the time being…:-)

In other news, I’m waiting (with characteristic patience, ie not much) to see a muscular and skeletal unit who have the authority to arrange a scan for my back – but in the meantime, I’m looking forward to sharing some thoughts with you following the remarkably interesting visit Louis and I had at Regina Coeli.

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22 responses to “So, er, can I blindfold some of you, please? In the nicest possible way…

  1. 🙂 well, by lying very still and closing my eyes tight I could just about pick up a few phrases from a ‘Beti a’i phobol’ interview… felt kind of ‘in the zone’. I think for that task it definitely helped to focus just on listening. But my second best place for listening to Welsh is when I’m driving so actually let’s not consider what that says about my driving…

    I also prefer to do the SSiW lessons while doing something else, like cleaning, rather than sitting still – it relaxes me and distracts me from the pause button, which helps. Probably not going to start cleaning blindfolded 🙂 But I think what all those things have in common is being relaxed, which doesn’t seem like a very exciting conclusion except I wonder if the blindfolded thing also helps people relax and what effect it would have if being blindfolded actually made the person more tense?

    • Very interesting comments, thanks 🙂

      My guess would be that if being blindfolded made someone feel tense, it would almost certainly still have the same impact on the auditory cortex, but perhaps the cost of the extra tension would outweigh the benefits of the new neurons/neurological connections.

      Doing learning sessions while you’re doing something else is definitely one of the very best ways of making them a natural part of your routine, which clearly makes people more likely to learn regularly, so there’s a cost/benefit balance there as well.

      But what you say about the radio is extremely interesting. It might well be that a 30 minute daily listen to the radio + blindfold would be the easiest way to accelerate the process of understanding.

  2. One could use a sleeping mask, as sold for airline flights. In the past, I’ve often listened to radio plays, etc, sitting in an armchair or settee with my eyes closed. I seem to be asleep, but I’m definitely not. I think just sitting with eyes closed might be almost as effective as a blindfold or sleeping mask. I’ve probably done this unconsciously sometimes for SSiW, but I’ll try more consciously in future.

    • Yes, that’s definitely a good fit. It’ll be really interesting to hear what you think when you’ve done a few sessions deliberately blindfolded…:)

  3. Don’t work for me. I’ve tried. Just listening is insufficient input for me and I either start doing something else in my head and totally stop listening or fall asleep…

    • Interesting. What’s the longest you’ve managed to listen blindfold? How many times have you tried? I can imagine that it might well be something that would require building up tolerance in some people, in which case you’d certainly want more evidence that it makes a valuable difference before putting the effort in.

      • I’ve tried several times, both lessons and audio books. I can do a few minutes, but with lessons I start losing the plot quite soon.

        The audio books eventually left me feeling stressed since I had to actively concentrate on listening and I couldn’t really relax. Funny feeling when you’re lying down..

        Similarly, I couldn’t really listen lectures on the university either, unless I did something else while listening. The time it takes to speak a sentence is so long that at the end of it I’ve already forgotten the beginning. Which is the reason I prefer to read stuff from books.

      • That’s really interesting. I’m guessing this is an approach that may not work for you! But I know you’re interested in martial arts – do you do any meditation?

        It actually sounds as though you’d be someone who wouldn’t enjoy the SSi approach at all! I’m very glad that’s not the case…;-)

      • Heh, I started zen meditation because I had problems concentrating when practising. =) But it don’t seem to help with this listening thing.
        Which makes me totally surprised that the SSi way works for me. If i just do something while listening to the lesson.

      • I’m not sure if I feel guilty or delighted that someone was driven to Zen meditation by SSiWelsh…! How has the meditation worked for you otherwise? We’re going to HAVE to get you in a lab some time – I’m thinking MRI scans, brain slices, the works…;-)

    • Zen works. It helps me to stay present. I’m lazy and don’t do it regularly, only for awhile when not staying present becomes a problem. Like in boring meetings. But nowadays I can usually play with my mobile or laptop and listen at the same time. Also, on the last bootcamp, that’s the reason I read a book when you were giving some reaaaaally long explanation on something. I can read and listen at the same time!

      MRI! Been there, done that, almost fell asleep. =)

      • Hmmm. I wonder if there might be some interesting interfaces between meditation and language learning.

        Don’t worry, I’m sure the brain slices will be almost painless.

        Sorry about the long explanations – perhaps my biggest weakness, and one I’m trying to work on, although silence doesn’t come very naturally to me…;-)

      • Oh no, nothing is more …erm… cute and entertaining than when you get that excited gleam in your eyes and speak without breathing for an hour. =) And your explanations are good.

  4. Innnnteresting. You remember me saying that I did a lot of SSiW course one lying down with my eyes closed? 🙂

    • I hadn’t! But now you mention it in this context – we certainly know that you’re not an example of a slow learner who had problems crossing the bridge…:-) The plot thickens…

  5. Wonder it it could be generational. I grew up with radio and no TV until I was a teenager, so getting absorbed in just sound was second nature, and I still prefer radio to TV, love audiobooks, radio plays, etc. (So the advice to listen to Radio Cymru rather than watch S4C was quite welcome to me). But we’re not all the same, and I can understand this might not seem as natural to other people.

    • Mmm, that’s definitely an interesting thought. It would be fascinating to see if there are any consistent differences in the auditory cortex for pre- and post-TV people. It’s starting to seem as though we need our very own neuroscience institute…;-)

  6. Hi Aran,
    Firstly, let me introduce myself. I’m Lauren, and I’m a Welsh learner from Australia. I’ve been using SSIW for about 6 months. I’m not very regular with lessons, so I’m still very much a beginner, but I love the way the course is structured. I’m a theology student, and it’s not always easy to fit Welsh in with my other studies.
    I found your post very interesting, and I wanted to give a perspective as a language learner who is blind… literally! 🙂 I’ve been blind since birth, so I rely on my listening skills first and foremost. I’m a musician and have a fascination with languages. These are stereotypical characteristics that are often attributed to people who are blind, much to the annoyance of those who aren’t musicians or have no interest in language! 🙂 However, in saying that, I believe there are studies to show that the auditory cortex is larger in people who are blind, and that the visual cortex is still active but takes on other functions.
    On the other hand, my house mate, who lost her sight as a young adult, prefers to learn languages using flash cards, reading and writing. This was also the case before she lost her sight.
    There are of course many sighted people who are auditory learners, so I wonder whether it all comes down to the preferred learning style of the individual.
    Please keep us posted on your scientific experiments! 🙂

    • Thank you very much indeed for commenting, Lauren – that’s really interesting – and it sounds as though you’re doing great with the course, which is very much not a race…:)

      A lot of educationalists would agree about it being a matter of preferred learning style – I’m increasingly of the opinion that preferred learning style is relevant to language acquisition only insofar as it affects how people feel about the process. In other words, I think everyone (whatever their personal preferences) actually acquires the capacity to use a language (as opposed to understanding how it works, or having a large learnt but passive vocabulary) faster if they produce and listen to speech.

      But it’s all very interesting. And I shall indeed continue to think out loud about all our various and thoroughly unscientific experiments!…;-)

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