• ELT Action

When does 39 = 11? And what does this have to do with learning?




Over the last few months, I have been swimming a lot and when I am swimming many things go churning through my mind. It is my declutter mind time, but I confess I easily get bored when I am repeatedly doing the same thing, so running and swimming are often hard for me as my mind starts to get hungry and needs food for thought. Nevertheless, I have been pushing myself to actually do 50 lengths before moving on to doing water aerobic exercises which then gives my brain some variety and I force myself to stay focused to do those lengths – in some ways it is the eternal fight to discipline the mind!


A few weeks ago I had a “eureka” moment. Normally I always find myself counting upwards from one to fifty and it is heavy going, but my eureka came from actually questioning if I would feel differently if I counted backwards from fifty to zero and guess what….my mind actually felt better and happier counting down! This really led me to question what the difference was and why it felt different. Maybe counting upwards gives the sense of achieving quality and maybe with a different activity counting up might stimulate me as it is a feeling of accumulation, but when doing something that for me is tedious and boring, counting down gives me the sense of ‘only so many left to do” – and then once I get to zero I will have finished. This contrasts the counting up which could go on forevermore into infinity. Could that be the difference finite or infinite? In any case, it is about engaging the brain and finding the stimulus that works to achieve the goal.


How could this help when setting language goals? Maybe we could use the idea of “the big picture” and we could categorize this as the “already created” or the “yet to create”. Then I would need to find out from my learner, what type of person they are. In my case I know I am “an already created big picture” person and recently this was proven to me when in my Russian sessions I needed to go and find the complete big picture of all the case endings so that I could understand the complete task ahead of me and I will then be able to strike them off one by one as I get more familiar with them.

On the other hand, there are learners who prefer to build up the picture along the way and they discover the way it comes together and make the connections on the journey of creation.


With Brain-friendly grammar, as a Neurolanguage Coach, when handling grammar areas we do in fact break down the grammar creating an overall big picture, but normally I always say that this big picture is for the coach to use as the roadmap and script through the coaching conversation. However, it is always useful to find out if the learner could like to have this big picture first or whether they would like to create it through the conversation with the client.


There might be different ways of applying the count up or count down strategy – for example, with vocabulary learning, it might be an incentive to be counting upwards making the learner feel that they are adding and accumulating to their pool of words or counting down on sentences to translate to have the sense of getting through a designated number.

Discovering how to stimulate the mind and brain when learning or training is key to be able to blast through the limitations and the “cop-outs” – in modern terms we could call it a brain hack. So see how you can hack your brain with the count up, count down strategy and let me know which works for you and for what activity.

Rachel M. Paling

Rachel started teaching English as a Foreign Language to adults over 35 years ago. She has a BA Honours in Law/Spanish (with distinction in spoken Spanish) and a Masters in Human Rights and Democratization (EMA) and qualified as a UK Lawyer in 2003, but combined her teaching experience, her specialization in business English and her legal knowledge to coach top executives across Europe.

She has created the new method and approach called Neurolanguage Coaching® and has trained about 400 language teachers worldwide certifying them as Neurolanguage Coaches with her training course, one of the only language coaching certification courses in the world accredited by International Coach Federation USA. She now delivers worldwide to transform the educational process and to enhance communication.


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