Food for thought… thoughts on food !

What does higher education imply? It implies great and long efforts made by the brain to reach athletic levels of concentration combined with reasonable amounts of stress. Even if we, English students, are not considered to be physically active, we do have our share of marathon writing of dissertations and races for grades and success. We could be compared to hurdlers, jumping over obstacles that fill our university life, which is as exhausting as it is rewarding.

There is, however, something that is neither emphasised sufficiently, nor taken into consideration in a student’s educational background. For instance, athletes are constantly asked what diet they are on to improve their performances. Yet, I have never been asked: ‘What kind of diet are you on to improve your intellectual performance?’ or ‘What type of food do you need to eat to pass your exams?’ or ‘Before writing a good dissertation, what do you reckon you should eat to find the right words?’  As amusing as these questions may sound, if our brain does not obtain enough or only poor quality fuel to think, our intellectual performances, like those of athletes, will not be very promising.

Eating complete and healthy meals is crucial, especially for students. However, cooking for oneself and bringing one’s lunch to campus can be challenging at times, whether living at one’s parents’ house, in a shared flat, on one’s own or with one’s sweetheart or abroad. It is true that we do not always have the motivation to go into the kitchen and actually make tomorrow’s lunch. Because it is considered a waste of energy? Because why bother when something can be bought at the cafeteria… Fair enough. But consider this: aren’t the countless hours spent on Facebook, scrolling to look at pages without content, the greatest time-consuming activity of the 21st century?!
Food awareness is essential and making one’s own food is a cheaper, healthier and quicker option than queueing up at the cafeteria and paying for a sandwich that has no or barely any taste, a greasy punnet of French fries or a four-hundred-calorie donut. I am not saying that we should all start cooking like three star chefs but if we feed our body better, our mental performances will improve. You are what you eat, as they say. Your body is the reflection of your brain.
Now for the practical approach. You might not know where to start and have no idea what to cook. Here’s where you can start: online. During my year abroad, being as helpless as one can be in the kitchen, I searched online what to do with my leftovers and came across this wonderful cooking channel called ‘Sorted Food’. Its goal is to help people being better cooks by proposing simple recipes with affordable and everyday ingredients. It is therefore perfect for students. The concept is easy: cooking is meant to be enjoyed as much in its making as its sharing. Eat healthy, study better and enjoy yourself more!


Anglicisms and brain rewiring: « J’ai confronté ma mère dans la cuisine »

At first glance, the French quote in the title might sound acceptable to a French student studying English, yet it is not. While the words “week-end” and “management” have now been fully integrated into French, some verbs are still up for discussion. “Réaliser” in French, as in “prendre conscience de”, has borrowed its meaning from the English notion “to realize”; and even though it appears in the dictionary1, some French speakers still won’t accept it as being fully French. Some syntactic structures, however, the ones we call anglicisms, do not seem to be so acceptable.
As students of English, or early English scholars, I dare say, we are constantly in the presence of our language of choice. At university, where most of our classes are either taught in English, or about English media. In our personal lives, when we watch movies or videos on YouTube, read books in English… Due to its omnipresence, our subject is not only work-related, it is everywhere and contributes to our proficiency, and also, if we look even further, to the way our brains work.
In 1978, Albert & Obler2 studied the implications of bilingualism and defined two categories: on the one hand, balanced bilinguals, who “have acquired both languages from birth in a natural “‘one parent—one language’ setting”; and on the other, dominant bilinguals who “have been exposed to two languages consecutively, so that they have a mother tongue and a second language that they have learned later and possibly in a formal setting.” We, as advanced students fluent in English, accordingly fall within the second category. This distinction, however, implies two kinds of bilingual brains: one, balanced, with a single uniform language system, and another, dominant, with two separate systems. A fact which has been proven in a study by Peltoa et al.3 who used modern technology to show that “dominant bilinguals have two separate phonological inventories,” when balanced bilinguals have only one.
The question that should be raised at this point is: Why do we, dominant bilinguals, sometimes produce anglicisms in perfectly French contexts, while talking with French monolingual relatives or friends, when we should only be using the inventory of our mother tongue. Bylalstok et al., in their NIH study (Bylalstok et al., 20124) led experiments to study the problem and have found that this is not how things actually work; because of a phenomenon they coined ‘joint activation’. They state that while “A fluent French-English bilingual ordering coffee in a Parisian café has no reason to consider how to form the request in English. […] fluent bilinguals show some measure of activation of both languages and some interaction between them at all times, even in contexts that are entirely driven by only one of the languages.” In other words, for us, dominant bilinguals, the existence of two systems prompts us to tap into our ‘English brain’ (which takes time, sometimes provoking a slower reaction time when talking) even when the linguistic context does not require it, hence sometimes generating odd English syntactic structures while speaking French to your perfectly-oblivious-to-English mother…

1 Réaliser. (s.d.). Dans Dictionnaire Larousse en ligne. Repéré à

2Albert, M. L., & Obler, L. K. (1978). The bilingual brain: Neuropsychological and neurolinguistic aspects of bilingualism. New York: Academic Press.

3Maija S. Peltola, Henna Tamminen, Heidi Toivonen, Teija Kujala, Risto Näätänen “Different
 kinds of bilinguals – Different kinds of brains: The neural organisation of two languages in one brain” Brain and language. Volume 121, Issue 3, June 2012, Pages 261–266

4Ellen Bialystok, Fergus I.M. Craik, Gigi Luk “Bilingualism: Consequences for Mind and Brain” Trends Cogn Sci. 2012 April 16 Consulted at