11 November 2018 by Rachel Paling

One of the greatest moments for any coach is that moment when a client suddenly out of the blue, like a lightning strike, has an AHA moment. The insight, the breakthrough, the philosopher’s stone that from nowhere, suddenly becomes conscious from the depths of the unknown or subconscious.

I always say that the greatest feedback and the greatest evidence that we, as a coach, are really doing our job properly, is when we witness those continuous AHA seconds, that we have provoked through our coaching skills and expertise. And this is exactly the same for the language coach and the neurolanguage coach. We should be extremely skilled to constantly be provoking language insights and AHAs throughout the language learning process.

The fascinating part is that these AHA moments and creativity are very much connected to gamma brainwaves, which are classified with a frequency of 30 Hz and above and associated with heightened perception, and even complex processing ability. In 2009, John Kounios and Mark Beeman from Drexel University and Northwestern University published a paper called “The AHA Moment – The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight”. The study itself measured neural correlates with test subjects who were asked to solve problems and compared sudden comprehension, that is insights, with analytical and logical problem-solving. Various interesting findings came out of this study. Firstly, insights or AHA moments definitely correlate with sparks of gamma waves and this spark occurred one third of a second before the test subjects consciously arrived at their answer. Secondly, the spark of gamma initiated from the right hemisphere of the brain and thirdly, immediately prior to the burst of gamma waves a burst of slower, alpha-band activity of approximately 10 Hz was measured over the right occipital cortex. The conclusion from that leads to the question of whether the brain is reducing distractions and visual interference, which would then quieten the neurons in that area and allow insights and AHAs to flood in.

From this, it is fascinating to think that our greatest moments of insight occur when we quieten the brain. An interesting story about Thomas Edison, one of our greatest inventors of all time is how Edison would consciously induce moments of insight. He would do this by sitting in a chair holding heavy metallic balls and then whenever he nodded off, the balls would drop and wake him. But what Edison was inducing were those moments in time where he claimed he could develop ideas and find solutions which were not readily available to him in his normal awake state.

Serious meditators experience gamma waves. Last year, I had the great experience of being connected to neurofeedback under the expert hands of Thomas Feiner, the Head of the Institute for EEG Neurofeedback in Munich and we recorded my brain activity during meditation and in that meditation I experienced an extremely strong gamma wave and I recall exactly what Kounios and Beeman stated, my gamma wave rippled from the right anterior temporal lobe just above the right ear right across the cortex to the left lobe. The sensation of such a gamma wave is beyond words. Dr Joe Dispenza in his book Becoming Supernatural describes “gamma frequency brainwaves as when the brain gets aroused from an internal event instead of an event that happens outside the body”.

How does this connect to language learning? We know that the brain learns through connecting and associating information. The brain is a powerhouse of neural networks and it is constantly trying to associate new information with existing information. Since 2016 we have the evidence that when we learn a foreign language, our brain tries to connect the target language with the native grammar structures to see how the new relates with the existing knowledge of language. Once we, as language educators, fully embrace this that is when we are able to constantly and continuously steer and provoke our learner into having insights and concrete AHA moments. I have witnessed some of my learners have an instant AHA and they have GOT IT and believe me, once we GET something, we get it for life. It is almost like AHA moments instantly hardwire and that is what I am witnessing and I know that many of my neurolanguage coaches are also now witnessing.

So, the next time you witness your client or your learner having one of these precious moments you now know what is happening in the brain and the eternal question for the coach is, how can I take my client to the next AHA?