I don’t like the formal way of learning languages, so I’m always experimenting with various new and fun ways to teach myself.

One of these ways is Arnold’s ‘shock principle’. I got the idea after watching this video, where Arnold describes his technique for breaking through plateaus in bodybuilding.

What is the Shock Principle

The “Shock Principle” is a phrase that Arnold coined. It means breaking out of the regular training routine one day, and to go completely overboard in the amount and the variety of exercises performed that day.

It involves changing the order of exercises, introducing new exercises, or completing seemingly arbitrary challenges like performing [your age × 10] repetitions of an exercise.

Arnold used this technique rarely. It was not part of his regular training regime, rather it is used to break up the monotony of training, and to force the body into over-compensation.

Muscles weren’t designed to be bored. They hate monotony.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

This quote applies even more so for your brain!

How language learners can use the Shock Principle

It’s quite simple really.

First, you choose a day when you have a lot of free time, maybe Sunday. Make sure that you really have nothing else to do, and that you have enough coffee, pizza, beer, or whatever makes you happy to spend the whole day studying.

Then go absolutely nuts and do 8, 10, or even 12 hours of language study and immersion!

Bombard your brain with every tactic you know

The point is to go completely overboard. Relentlessly attack your brain with the language. Even when you take a break to cook some food — listen to podcasts or music. Then get back to studying.

The emphasis here is not just amount but also variety. So mix it up!

  • Reading
  • Music
  • Films
  • Comics
  • Memorization apps
  • Language exchange apps (chatting with people)
  • Talking to people

If you need some more ideas, here are some of the strategies I use:

How to Learn a Language Naturally From Home
You can learn a language without classes, apps, or boring grammar textbooks.

Too much information for one day?

Some people think that your brain is like a sponge, that it can only absorb a certain amount per day, and then it’s full.

Well, I agree to an extent, but I believe the limit is much further than we think. An hour or two of study will make you tired, but when you keep going, that’s when the magic happens.

You see, the goal is not to remember everything you learned, but rather to stress your brain enough to trigger adaptation.

You will forget half of the words and grammar rules you studied that day. That’s not important. What’s important is that your “language-muscle” will get stronger.

This is explained by the phenomenon of neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to to change continuously throughout an individual’s life — e.g., the proportion of grey matter can change and synapses may strengthen or weaken over time.

Your brain literally changes shape over time, depending on the demands you place on it. That sounds a lot like bodybuilding to me!

Simple but effective

Many passionate language learners will roll their eyes at me. “Of course studying the entire day will improve your language ability!”

Yes, the idea is very simple. But often the most simple ideas are the most potent. And I can guarantee you that most people learning a language have never done 12 hours of study in one day.

The other key point is that we are not studying to retain information, we are studying to create stress and adaptation. To get a better feel for the language, to begin to understand it on a deeper level and start thinking in the language.

You will go a little bit mad

You know it’s working when you dream about it that night; when the words and phrases you learned that day are floating around your head and they only go away the next morning (or not).

But in a relatively short time period of just one day, you will observe a huge leap in your language ability.

So take your time, study hard, and enjoy flexing your new language muscles!

About the author:

I’m a Belarusian-Australian currently living in Poland. I write about my experiences with language, culture, immigration, and more.
Follow me on Medium and Twitter.