the problem with multi-lingual multi-tasking Conversa blog | Conversa Spanish Institute

The Problem with Multi-Lingual Multi-Tasking

Nowadays, it feels like we are always multi-tasking. You might find yourself on your phone while watching TV, scrolling while in class, texting at dinner, or listening to a podcast while writing a paper. It’s common to multi-task, but there’s a big problem with multi-lingual multi-tasking: it doesn’t work very well when you’re first learning. What does that mean as a Spanish student? It’s best to focus on Spanish with all of your attention while you’re learning, so that one day you’ll be able to multitask too.

Interestingly enough, research suggests that bilinguals might be more efficient at multi-tasking, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After spending years working on two different languages, bilingual brains can switch between tasks more efficiently and faster than monolingual brains.

Why is it better to focus on one language while learning?

When you start learning a language, you have a limited amount of vocabulary that you can recognize. You might not realize it, but you depend a lot on context in order to understand what is happening, and in order to respond. When you multi-task, your brain rapidly changes between different activities, and there’s a very slight delay as your brain tries to catch up to the new task. In English, you might be a great multi-tasker, and can switch quickly!

However, since you depend so much on context as a Spanish learner, you actually miss a lot when you divert your attention to something else. If you’re trying to follow a conversation in Spanish, then distract yourself in English, then try and switch back in Spanish, your brain doesn’t have enough context to know what’s happening. Often, you miss key information that helps you continue the conversation. Remember, when you’re starting out, you have to think a lot more about what you’re saying. Eventually, with practice, it will become natural, but it requires a lot of thought in the beginning.

Mindfulness is key

In order to feel confident in a conversation, in class, or watching or listening to something in Spanish, it’s important to be mindful. This means being present and not distracted. Mindfulness will help you understand more of what you see, hear and read, and it will also help you learn vocabulary and grammar. Being in the moment and not multi-tasking will help develop the “Spanish part” of your brain, since it takes time and effort to do so.

What helps you stay mindful when you’re learning? Let us know in the comments!

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