16: Benefits of Bilingualism for your Brain, Career and Health

“ Be kind to yourself and give yourself the opportunity to focus on that one thing you truly want ”

      Susanna Janssen     

Dr. Veronica Anderson, Host, Functional Medicine Specialist and Medical Intuitive interviews Susanna Janssen on the benefits of bilingualism for your brain, career and health.

Can learning a language help improve the quality of your life? Foreign language educator Susanna Janssen is an expert teacher and passionate advocate for language acquisition and the benefits of bilingualism for your brain, your career, your bank account, and your world view. Her life as a writer, speaker, and teacher is dedicated to changing the linguistic culture of America by advocating for learning foreign language at any age.

In this episode, Susanna shares her techniques on ways you can learn a language fast, methods for long-term results when setting a goal and if achieving results overnight is a possibility. She also talks about how to have a “just do it” mentality and what to do if you are overwhelmed. Listen to the end for affordable options to reach success in any area in your life.

Listen to episode 16 on iTunes here or subscribe on your favorite podcast app.

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16: Show Notes

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Recommended Book:



Show Notes:

06:00 – Learn a language over holiday breaks

08:15 – Words, language and culture

13:27 – Pitfalls to goal setting

14:30 – Can you get results overnight?

19:40 – How to “just do it”

21:20 – Are you overwhelmed?

22:30 – Affordable options

29:50 – Following a consistent plan



Female VO: Welcome to the Wellness Revolution Podcast, the radio show all about wellness in your mind, body, spirit, personal growth, sex, and relationships. Stay tuned for weekly interviews featuring guests that have achieved physical, mental, and spiritual health in their lives.

If you’d like to have access to our entire back catalog visit drveronica.com for instant access. Here’s your host, Dr. Veronica.

Dr. Veronica: Guess what, this is the episode you really want to see of the Dr. Veronica’s Wellness Revolution. Why is that? Because we’re going to tell you some secrets today. This is about your longings, your desires, where you want to get in life, and guess what, you are never too old to get there. But you have to turn your longings and desires into actually a plan. And you’re saying, “Where do I start with everything?”

One of the big pieces when people start the year is they form New Year’s resolutions. And the New Year’s resolutions go out the window by day 21. Do you hear me? Twenty-one days, January 21st or 22nd is when most people have fallen off the boat and they’re back where they were.

I can tell you this firsthand because the beginning of January we go into the gym. I’ve been going to the gym for a long time. I like it. There’s a group of us that are there. We brace for impact in January. And then we all joke and say it’ll be over in a few weeks. And you know what, it’s over in a few weeks. This is the year that maybe won’t be over but you have to do it a little bit differently. So we’re going to talk about the secret to everything and we’re going to talk about it with a teacher.

Susanna Janssen is a foreign language teacher. You’re saying, “What does foreign language have to do with the secret to everything?” Well, you’re going to find out. And it’s very important. And she’s absolutely right. And so we’re going to get into a little bit of background. She also does a really good segment on lying. And so maybe I’ll get her to come back for that too.

But this is the time of year we want to talk about what are the secrets to actually having it stick, having your desires… Finally, this is the time, this is the year. And what I would tell you is as soon as you see and finish watching this episode start, don’t wait for a particular date because that’s one of my secrets. One of my secrets is don’t wait, start. There’s no magic about New Year’s, there’s no magic about any date, it’s start, but you got to plan first.

We’re going to bring on a foreign language… Guess what, I got to tell you, I wanted to learn French. I told her about I was going to learn French and I didn’t do it. But you know how I am people. If I decide I want to do something I’m going to do it. I really didn’t want it. I decided I’m in France one to two weeks a year, and so I don’t want to spend brain power learning French. I’ll just go and wing it. Besides when I’m in France everybody wants to practice their English with me. So I know how to say Oui, merci, a few other things.

I didn’t learn French but here I am, bringing you a language teacher so that if you want to learn French or anything, if you want to do anything in life we’re going to give you a few secrets. So Susanna, welcome to Dr. Veronica’s Wellness Revolution.

Susanna: Thank you Dr. Veronica, it’s wonderful to be here.

Dr. Veronica: First give us a little bit of background about where you are. I said you’re a language teacher but tell us how you got into teaching language.

Susanna: My parents did not speak English as their first language. My father was Dutch, my mother is Italian. I was a product of a bilingual, bicultural household. But they did not teach us their languages because it was post-World War and people just weren’t doing that with their kids. It was all very America. It was all very nationalistic.

So I didn’t start until I was in high school but I really took it on in high school. My mom’s best friend was a Spanish teacher. I had to apply myself. And then I went on from there to college and graduate school. And I ended up with a master’s degree in Spanish teaching college which I’ve had a wonderful long career teaching college Spanish, and now I teach Italian as well.

Dr. Veronica: Wow, you’re one of those talented people that can pick it up quickly.

Susanna: well, I think I had the advantage of hearing my parent’s languages a little bit. But I struggle just like anybody else would struggle.

Dr. Veronica: It’s good to know because we all feel like it’s magic. I have a friend, he speaks about six or seven languages. I’m like, how could he do that?

Susanna: Even I don’t understand how he can do that.

Dr. Veronica: He doesn’t too. And some of those are languages that nobody knows exactly what they are but he does it anyway. You notice something with your students that made you think about here’s what the secret is. Tell me what you were noticing about your students.

Susanna: What I notice is that it was every semester this would happen. When we finished the fall semester they would be going off for holiday break, five weeks. When we finish the spring semester they would be going off for summer break, two and a half months. Most of them are returning for that following semester of another Spanish class.

It hadn’t really occurred to me to search for a solution until I got very involved personally that I started studying Italian on my own pretty much towards the end of my career at the college. And I had just come back from Italy and I was just full of pizza, pasta, and a lot of enthusiasm for becoming fully bilingual in that language as well.

I had this plan that I was going to do some Italian every day, do a little bit every day, keep up with it, keep on the learning curve. But of course I got totally engulfed in the semester and I lost that plan. I lost that commitment to do that. When the semester was ending my students were getting ready to go off, we were celebrating the end of the semester, and I thought, there’s a way to address this.

And I devised a contract, an actual piece of paper. And I put on the contract, “I will do something in my target language every single day.” The target language for them was Spanish, for me it was Italian. The key was that something was anything. And the other key was that there was no amount of time that had to be achieved. It could be two minutes, five minutes, or ten minutes. The longer the better. But the really important factors were consistency and commitment.

When those students came back after those holiday break that I did this the first time, when they came back after those five weeks I didn’t hear that litany of, “I just feel like I’ve forgotten everything.” No. Instead they came back, they were feeling fresh, they were feeling ready to go again. And most importantly they felt like their language learning center in the brain still had a light on and a door open.

And that was huge. That’s precisely what I had wanted to achieve. And I achieved it for myself too because I was ongoingly doing my Italian every day. So I asked him, “What did you do on a daily basis?” Well, I used the ATM in Spanish one day. That took about 20 seconds. I ordered in a Mexican restaurant. That’s very effective because that’s very active, actually having to produce some language.

But equally important would be listening to a song, reading something, writing something, having an, ”
Hola, como estas? Hello, how are you? Fine, thank you. And you?” conversation. I just left it completely open and they got very, very good. So I started doing it every single semester with my classes.

Dr. Veronica: Wow. And so now you talk about the secret to everything to help people have their dreams come true, you put this in your book. Tell us what your book’s name is.

Susanna: I’ll hold It Up.

Dr. Veronica: Beautiful.

Susanna: My book’s name is Wordstruck. The overall theme of the book is words, and language, and cultures. I included the secret to everything in this book because I had applied it to foreign language, and continued to apply it to foreign language. But also in my own life I apply it to fitness, to health, to tango, dancing, and I’m going to apply it to playing the castanets because I’ve always wanted to do that.

The secret to everything is not going to take the dents out of your car or remove those gray hairs, but it definitely is the key to flat abs, to learning a foreign language, to learning art or music, to improving relationships with a loved it, to being a better cook, anything like that that you dream of doing, that you want to improve at, to long, to have, and to do. Having a savings account, the secret to everything can be applied to that too.

Those little incremental steps every single day because that is the one factor without which all the talent in the world cannot manifest. In foreign language, in music, in art, all the talent in the world won’t come out unless one applies oneself on a very consistent basis. And for so many of our projects it really is every single day. We’re talking about a short amount of time, but every single day.

Dr. Veronica: I do a lot of coaching for people and changing their habits. I don’t necessarily go for the everyday because for some people that seems very overwhelming. But I do go for the let’s make a commitment and a schedule of something that you know that you can do. And the next time we talk I want to know that you did it. And usually what happens is people don’t just do what we agreed to, they do more.

Susanna: Amazing isn’t it? Because they have that commitment and they have some accountability.

Dr. Veronica: But I find that like you’re saying, do a little something is one of the keys. I think what causes people to fail is they have these grandiose ideas. “I’m going to the gym. I’m going to work out for an hour I’m going to go every single day. I’m going to go five days, I’m going to go seven days.

You’ve been sitting on the coach, that’s a little bit aggressive. How about if you get there two days I’m happy. And that’s what I tell… two days I’m happy. Commit that you can go on Monday and Thursday. Guess what, if you don’t get there on Monday, you can say, “Oops, I didn’t get there on Monday but I can go on Tuesday.” So you do something that without a doubt you can keep that commitment to yourself.

Susanna: It’s a very personal thing. It varies. For me personally I felt that I needed to commit to doing certain things every single day. Because if it’s left up to me, if I’m going to get down on the floor and do those core, balance, and stretching exercises I wake up and I don’t want to do them. And then I think, “It’s raining today. I don’t think I’m going to go out and do my walk.”

Health and fitness is so important to me. I’m committed to doing that for myself every day because I can be too much of a procrastinator and put things off. And then when we put things off though, when we don’t meet our commitment, whether it’s three times a week, or every day, or once a week it becomes harder and harder than to get back to it. Because we’re personally disappointed in ourselves. And it’s both physiological and psychological I think.

The psychological thing is that we actually feel that distance and we think, “I can’t get back to it or too much to do.” I think there’s a physiological change that occurs too particularly in foreign language, but in music and learning anything, and of course in exercise and health as well.

There is an atrophy, there is a backslide that occurs when a person learning a foreign language doesn’t have very regular contact with it, that language learning center starts to dim. And you actually do start to forget things that you learn that you thought that you had mastered and they’re just kind of a muscle atrophying. They tend to fade into the background. And then psychologically we convince ourselves, well, I just don’t got it anymore.

Dr. Veronica: You talk about the pitfalls that cause 95% of us to give up on what we truly desire. The pitfalls are what?

Susanna: You mentioned the first one. The first one is taking on too much. The first one is having three or four big projects or goals or dreams that you want to achieve in 2017. It won’t work that way. I think that’s a recipe for failure. And we’ve all done that. I’ve done that so many times.

The answer there is to take one thing that you really deeply care about, maybe one smaller thing but don’t try to do it all at once. I hate to say be realistic but be kind to yourself and give yourself the opportunity to focus on that one thing that you truly, truly want.

That is the sub secret number one. The sub secret number two is that it doesn’t happen overnight. When I started doing my CBS, my core balance and stretch I did it for a month. And then I reported back to my audience, readers that I was running all my chapters by and I said, “Yeah, here I am after a month and I can walk a tightrope and I can balance on one toe, and I’ve got six pack abs, and I I’m lying through my teeth.” Because you don’t see the results right away.

We want those results and we want it to be now. It doesn’t happen that way. It doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes it doesn’t happen in a month. Depending upon what it is we might not see grand results in six months even say for example one’s been a coach potato for so long, and now they’re trying to improve their health, get their blood pressure down, get their blood sugar under control and everything like that. That’s going to take some time. You don’t turn the Titanic around on a dime.

Dr. Veronica: Oh gosh. I love that you’re saying that because a lot of people come in and invest and decide for… One of their first times in their life they’re really going to invest in their health, their time, their energy, their finances. And then they’re just like, “Can you guarantee that blah, blah, blah is going to happen?” I’m like, “No, I can’t guarantee, and your other doctors or anybody else can’t guarantee. And your body’s going to respond at the speed that it’s going to respond. But you have to start and you have to do something.” And what we do know now is that you didn’t know how to do it the past or we wouldn’t be having this conversation, so one little thing at a time. It does happen slowly but when you look back over it it’s actually amazing to look at.

One of my sub secrets would be for people is to document where you were and what you’re doing, whatever it is, even one little piece, document what it is. “I went to the gym today. Or I did this or that.” There’s so many apps these days that can help you follow along that makes you not even have to do the work. That then you can look back and see where you came from.

This is what one of my coaches taught me, Dan Sullivan, he talked about people living in the gap. And the gap being that area of negativity. So you got 80% of the way. And what you’re not looking at is that you got 80% of the way, you’re looking at there’s that 20%, and it’s horrible because I didn’t get that 20%.

And so what happens is if you start looking at where you have actually came from and how you improved and celebrating those improvements then you’re able to go, “Okay, I got 80%. Now I can get 80% of that 20%. And then that little bit I can get…”

I found that we all, especially those of us who tend to achieve a lot I realized I’ve done a lot but I feel like I haven’t done anything. Because there maybe one little piece that I’m measuring by and I haven’t gotten anywhere on that one little piece. But that one little piece where if I say I haven’t gotten there that’s the area where I need some help, I need some coaching, and that’s where those who are really smart about it will ask for help and get the coaching.

But documenting where you were and what you did so that you can look back a few weeks later and say, “Oh my gosh, maybe I didn’t work out every day but three months ago I didn’t work out at all, and I just worked out eight times in three weeks.

Susanna: Exactly. It amazes me Dr. Veronica, you and I are so on the same page because you just outlined one of my other sub secrets, and I call it install a rearview mirror. Because our tendency is to look forward just like you said and think, “I’m not there yet. I’m just not where I want to be.” And we don’t think to look back on what we’ve accomplished so far, how far we’ve come, that I do play that ukulele better than I did when I started, that I do meditate… I didn’t know anything about meditating before, I’m meditating now every day, that I do get out there and get the exercise.

You’re exactly right. Right on. That’s a big sub secret. And these are the things I’m reminding the audience, these are the things that account for 98% of people not achieving their goal, even though we all know that commitment and consistency are the keys, but this is what happened.

Another one, this is a big one, for me especially, I heard this from students so many times. I call this one just do it. Because students would say, “I can’t go out and have a conversation in Spanish. I need to get a little bit better first.” And I myself was saying, “I’m not going to go to that dance and dance tango. I need to get better before I can actually go dance.”

Dr. Veronica: Is this Argentine tango?

Susanna: Yeah, it’s Argentine tango.

Dr. Veronica: I did Argentine tango. I’m going to get out my Argentine tango video. People, you need to look on my website for that Argentine tango video.

Susanna: Oh, I would love to. I’m still in that struggling stage but I’m actually going to a dance tomorrow night. And I’m just going to go and have fun. I haven’t danced for a year because I’ve been doing my book. I’ve been pretty busy. But don’t you think that being precedes doing. And we need to declare ourselves, I need to declare that I’m a dancer, declare that you are a bilingual person. You declare that you are a musician, an artist. And then you do what that person does. You do what a musician does. You do what a bilingual person does, what a dancer does. You do what a loving family member does. If we think that we’re just never ready for it we never do it.

Dr. Veronica: But what about people just are paralyzed and feel like I’ve got to know more. I need more research. Because we’re in the web day, people love it. I got to research. And then they don’t do. Any tips for getting out of that paralysis of research mode?

Susanna: There’s some great expressions like fish or cut bait. You know that expression?

Dr. Veronica: Yes.

Susanna: Here’s another one too but I’ll skip that one.

Dr. Veronica: Yes, I know what you’re thinking.

Susanna: You know what I’m thinking. Fish or cut bait. I have a tendency to want to do that, all that research, always in a preparation stage. If I’m going to create a work of art it’s very important to have all my materials prepared and ready. I’m going to paint a wall. I’ve got to have everything ready to go. I can’t just start slapping something on there.

But we tend to, with all of this available to us, all of the information, all the material, all the research on the internet that we can we tend to spend way too much time on that. We need to cut to the chase and get moving on our goals because we don’t have all the time in the world. We have the time that’s left to us and we need to look towards it.

That brings me to another one of the sub secrets. This is a hard one to say but overwhelm is an excuse. We’re not doing what we really believe and say that we truly want. And I say that with no self-righteousness whatsoever because this is my biggest challenge. I can imagine how busy your life is. We all go through these things. “I’m spinning out. I’m overwhelmed. I can’t do that today. It’s impossible. I have all these things. I’ve got to like everybody’s Facebook comments on my new book.” There’s always things that are demanding our attention so much.

And it’s harsh to say that overwhelm is an excuse. But for me it helps me to frame it in that way. I remind myself that it’s up to me to prioritize. And if priority is writing a chapter in a book I have to just sweep everything else away and do it. It’s easier said than done, I know.

Dr. Veronica: You’re talking about overwhelmed being one of the excuses. I have people come all the time who say that they want to get healthy and overwhelm is not what they use as their excuse. There’s this even on that every single person uses this as an excuse practically to say no, and that is money. What do you say about that?

Susanna: Money, interesting. Yes, definitely so. That might mean taking time away from a job. That might mean getting fewer clients. It might mean paying money out and do something that you want to do. It might mean having to take some classes.

One thing about learning a foreign language, people do think that money is a big obstacle but I think that’s a myth. Yes, of course, it’s wonderful if you can hire a private tutor, like me. Hire me. But it’s too expensive. In the long run there are wonderful tools out on the internet that are made for people who want to do it themselves. And they’re taken along every step of the way. And people can actually learn on their own because these tools have the voice recognition. You just pronounce along with it, repeat along with it, writing, reading, speaking, listening, you’re doing all the language functions.

I’m going to learn how to play the castanets online. I don’t have to pay someone to come over here and show me how to do it. Duolingo is one of those programs online. It’s completely free. It’s not one of the programs that kind of brings you in with a little free preview. And then tells you what the bill is. Because the ones that charge are very good but I don’t think they’re better than Duolingo. I just don’t think they’re better.

And I would recommend for listeners to, if it’s something like that, music, or even voice lessons, my gosh, voice lessons online they’re free. They can be gotten for free. They could be gotten for a lot of money too. But I don’t think money has to be the obstacle that everyone puts it out there to be.

Dr. Veronica: Yes. I ask because a lot of people have done the free route, or the very inexpensive route, and they haven’t gotten necessarily the result that they wanted to get and they don’t know why they haven’t gotten the result. So it depends on the person. For instance for me I know if I were having somebody that I was going to and communicating with I’d probably do much better at my foreign language.

Susanna: Sure. And I think that has to be factored into it, like do some work on your own. Duolingo. But then take a class at the community college, that’s inexpensive. And if you can’t afford it hire someone to come maybe once a week for an hour, once every two weeks. Some of my former students have gotten groups together.

There’s a French group, there’s a Spanish group, there’s an Italian group, and they practice together. Do they make mistakes? Do they come up against things that they don’t know? Oh my gosh, yes, but the difference is they’re out there doing it. They’re making so much progress.

They might consult me now and then and I don’t even charge for that. I love when people ask me questions about language. But mix it up. Another thing about language specifically is that people think that it’s so expensive to go and study language in a foreign country. It actually can be very economical compared to university classes or something like that.

I took students to Mexico for 18 years. I would take one group a year for a two week program. It cost them about $1,200. It wasn’t outrageously expensive at all. It can be done. But I would recommend to people who really care about learning foreign language to get started with Duolingo.

And you know Dr. Veronica, so many people have already got the base. Maybe they took it in high school, maybe they took it in college. They’ve got some sort of a foundation. Duolingo is a great way to brush up those skills, to dust off those skills and get going again.

Dr. Veronica: In the last minute or so just give us a little synopsis of what people can learn from your book. You got to hold it up again for us.

Susanna: Oh my god, I have to say I did a book launch the other night and it was so much fun. I took on writing about word, language, and cultures. We are very general umbrella. And I basically got to write anything I wanted. And so all these topics that interested me, that I knew about, that I knew a little about but wanted to research and find out more about. Things like what Shakespeare gave us in the English language, which is tremendous. Things about how to use metaphor to one’s advantage if you’re in business, something like that.

And then of course I wrote that chapter about why identify a liar by the words they use. There’s lots out there about body language. I focused on the actual words that they use. And then I wrote some really fun and funny things if I may say so myself about prepositions. Nobody things prepositions are funny. But I wrote something really engaging and people thought it was really… They go, “Really? I never thought about that.”

I started off by saying that I had this great friend in graduate school who never could get it straight. She’s from Chile. She wanted to be very good at American slang. She never got it write, screw up, screw over, and screw off. And we changed the meaning of our words by the preposition we attach to them. When you think about the difference between crack up and crack down, the only different things.

I have a hard time convincing people but I actually wrote… My book is in the category of humor. It was the only category it truly fit in, but I wrote about English pronunciation, how wacky it is, how hard it is to pronounce English. There’s a lot of myself in the pages. I tell a lot of the stories, a lot of them are autobiographic.

Dr. Veronica: You’re saying English is tough to pronounce and I’m thinking about me pronouncing French, and I’ll something, and my husband’s just cracking up. I think it sounds fine and he’s just cracking up about the way I say it.

Susanna: Yeah. I remember you telling me he’s a French speaker. The French are particularly picky about how it’s pronounced. Spanish speakers and the Italian speakers are much more generous with our errors.

Dr. Veronica: Alright. I’m going to have to do Italian. I did some Spanish and it’s funny because I took some Spanish when I first started my medical practice because I had a lot of Spanish speaking patients that I wanted to be able to conduct an exam in Spanish. So I took Spanish. I can listen to Spanish now and understand quite a bit. And I can do some rudimentary… probably be in there. The French…

Susanna: I found French very hard to pronounce too and spell. Oh my gosh.

Dr. Veronica: Yes. Maybe I’ll try it again. I have my word a day calendar and it’s still back in February. So just like people, people quit with their exercise. I did the same thing with my French word a day. Maybe I’ll try it again and do a word a day. I’ll put it in my bathroom.

Susanna: For all of us it’s consistency and commitment. And commitment also includes knowing that life is going to get in the way. And so to have a plan when someone becomes ill in the family or suddenly you’re called away on a business trip you have a plan, so that you can get back into it when it becomes feasible without months going by, without throwing up your hands and saying, “Look, I did it again.”

Dr. Veronica: Yes. You fail to plan, you plan to fail. And so you know life is going to happen. There will be challenges. That’s an excuse that a lot of people… You can always plan around those type of things. There may be something really that’s going to stop you from maybe a week or something like that, but then you get back into it. Whatever it is, get back into it, because that helps your mood and everything, whatever the activity is.

Show your book again so we can see it one last time.

Susanna: I’ll show my book. My website is my name susannajanssen.com. I blog on my website and doing that, Wordstruck.

Dr. Veronica: Thank you so much Susanna for being on the Wellness Revolution.

Susanna: Thank you for inviting. I love talking to you. Thank you Dr. Veronica and to your audience as well.

Dr. Veronica: Bye bye.

Susanna: Bye.

Female VO: Thank you for listening to the Wellness Revolution Podcast. If you want to hear more on how to bring wellness into your life visit drveronica.com. See you all next week. Take care.


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Dr. Veronica Anderson is an MD, Functional Medicine practitioner, Homeopath. and Medical Intuitive. As a national speaker and designer of the Functional Fix and Rejuvenation Journey programs, she helps people who feel like their doctors have failed them. She advocates science-based natural, holistic, and complementary treatments to address the root cause of disease. Dr. Veronica is a highly-sought guest on national television and syndicated radio and hosts her own radio show, Wellness for the REAL World, on FOX Sports 920 AM “the Jersey” on Mondays at 7:00 pm ET.


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