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What is Embodied Learning?

Research consistently demonstrates that learning occurs not just in the brain but through the interconnection of the mind and body interacting with other people and our environment. Simply put, we learn best when our whole self is engaged in the process - brain, body, senses and emotions - and through meaningful connection with the world around us and the people in it. Many educational methodologies, including those in which I have trained - the Montessori method, Drama in Education - are based upon the principle that learning involves the body as well as the brain.

"The hand is the instrument of the mind"- Maria Montessori

This is especially true of physical skills such as driving a car, playing piano, or learning a language. Language is an inherently physical, emotional, embodied process. We speak using our breath, tongue, teeth, voice box - not to mention our facial expressions, gestures and body language. If we want to speak a new language fluently, it is not enough to simply study the rules - we need to train our mouths to shape new sounds, our ears to hear and understand them and our bodies to connect these sounds with real meaning, emotion and expression.

As drama is also an embodied process, one which allows us to explore meaning and communicate with our brains and bodies in sync with our emotions, it fits beautifully as a method through which to learn a new language.

"We speak with our vocal organs but we converse with our entire bodies" - D. Abercrombie


"In Spanish, past, present and future have emotion for  me: Feelings, regrets, hopes... but in English, just rules on the page. With these actions I feel my emotions together with the rules."- Maria (Argentina)

Student reflections on embodying language through drama

"I am not me in English…In Portuguese I am funny, I am smart, in English I am disconnected. Body is one thing, brain is another. I translate the words but they are just words, no feelings. No me. Today is the first time I feel like me in English. " - Bianca (Brazil)

"For me, grammar is hard, boring, not so fun. But with the drama, movement helps me to remember, I see and I do the thing and I don't forget." - Victor (Mexico)

"Sometimes what other people see when I make the pose is more true than what I meant! I learn about myself with these things, not only grammar but emotion and memory too." - Emin (Turkey)

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