The Hidden Almond: How well do you know your brain?

Limbic_System

 

The brain is a complex voyage of discovery, packed with intricate and interconnected networks of neurons, estimated to contain between 15 to 33 billion neurons. It can honestly be described as our power centre of excellence, with three main areas and various components that all function in perfect harmony and amazing precision.

Over the last 20 years, thanks to the advance of technology and machinery, we are now discovering much more about our brains and, in addition, we are definitively confirming long-standing theories that we always had believed to be true but that now can be proved with hard-core evidence. One such belief was that people who meditate regularly are calmer and now the physical proof is that the amygdala of regular meditators actually over time shrinks in size.

The amygdala is the hidden almond shaped mass of cells and is a part of the brain´s limbic system. It is involved in many of our emotions and motivations and is especially one of our essential survival triggers. So the amygdala is, in fact, fundamental for self preservation and mainly serves to keep us safe from threats. In ancient times, threats could range from being eaten by a lion or being attacked by other tribes, however nowadays a perceived “threat” could in fact range from feelings of unfairness to actually being under the threat of a physical attack. If the amygdala is triggered our innate responses take us into heightened alertness in which we prepare ourselves for the famous “fight or flight” mode. This response can activate physical reactions such as quickened heart beat, increase in metabolic rate, shallow breathing, increased blood flow to muscles and dilated pupils and could even lead us to adverse reactive behaviour. (Read about the Amygdala Hijack by Daniel Goleman 1996 Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ). In addition, the two essential parts of the brain which are key for learning could become “shut off” or “closed down”.

How does all this relate to language learning? Well, as a neurolanguage coach knowing how the brain likes to learn and knowing how to keep the learner´s brain in the perfect learning state is key to fast and efficient learning. The more we, as neuro-educators, understand how the brain functions, the more we can assist our learner to discover how his/her own brain likes to learn. And everybody´s brain is different – that is, no two brains are alike and throughout our lifetime our brains change through experience.

And the real key is whether the amygdala of my language learner has triggered due to a threat response. How safe does my learner feel? How confident or ashamed? How nervous or calm? And ultimately what can I do, as a neuolanguage coach, to bring my learner back into a comfortable non- threat status with positive emotions and the perfect learning state. This is the real quest for a neurolanguage coach.
© Rachel Paling 2015

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