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Tips for Taking a Fitness Class in a Different Language

  • May 31, 2015
  • By Brittany
Tips for Taking a Fitness Class in a Different Language

Hi guys!  How was your weekend?  We managed to get out for dinner twice, which with a six month old baby is huge!  We went to Jamie Oliver’s new Italian restaurant and it was ahhhhmazing!  Also, we realized we could totally bring the baby because tons of people had their little ones with them.  Next time.

So as much as I would like to think my Portuguese is awesome…it totally isn’t.  I can get around but more than that, I’m not good.  So I have a choice– I can sit inside all day and surround myself with only English speaking people or I can go out and make the best of it.  I choose the latter.  Case in point, I’ve been out and about taking fitness classes that are 100% in Portuguese.  It is actually not as intimidating as it sounds and I have a few tips for taking a fitness class in a different language.

1.  Try a class you are familiar with.  I highly recommend taking a class you’ve done before in your native language.  It helps so much if you are familiar with the moves, proper form and the general format of the class.  

2.  Pay attention to the music.  Most group fitness classes are set to music and often the instructor will choose to change moves, increase intensity or make some other change based on the music phrasing.  Paying attention to the song will help you anticipate what is coming next.  You can also use the music to ensure that you are on pace with the rest of the class.  For example, in a spin class, music is so important for determining your speed and RPMs.  Even if you have no idea what the instructor is saying, you will be able to tell that a fast beat is probably a sprint, while a super slow beat is probably a climb.


3.  Pay attention to visual cues.  A lot of fitness programs, like Zumba, are based completely on visual cues and instructors don’t even use verbal cues.  Even for classes where verbal cues are used, a good fitness instructor will also use visual cues.  Paying attention to what the instructor is saying with his or her hands or body is just as important and listening to what is coming out of their mouth and can really help if you are struggling to understand what is going on.  

4.  Find a spot in the front row.  This is kind of counterintuitive because if you don’t understand the language, your natural instinct is to hide in the back, but really you must find a spot in the front.  This way you can see the instructor to pay attention to the visual cues and you can also easily follow their lead.

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5.  Learn some basic terminology.  You don’t need to be an expert in any language to take a fitness class but understanding a few basic words will help you immensely.  Being able to count to 10, learning the words for left and right and knowing a few of the body parts will at least help you understand what side you are on, what direction you are going in and how many more reps you have.

6.  Try a private session.  One of the best ways to get one-on-one attention and ensure you are doing the moves correctly is to go with a personal training session.  This will also help you learn a lot more of the language.  I’ve been taking pilates equipment classes for two months and the instructors only speak Portuguese.  I’ve learned a ton more vocabulary this way and I have the benefit of having the instructor demo for me.

Readers, have you ever taken a fitness class in another language.  The only other thing I can liken it to is taking a class where the music is so loud you can’t hear a word the instructor is saying.  I hate that!  

By Brittany, May 31, 2015
  • 10
  • Melanie @ Happy Being Healthy
    June 1, 2015

    Wow, I’m so impressed you’re just “going for it” and not shying away from going to classes in Portuguese. Woo hoo! I go to a lot of classes where the music is so loud and the microphone isn’t so good, so I can’t understand the instructor! I know looking for visual cues is very helpful!

  • Allie
    June 1, 2015

    OMG I never even thought about this but of course you would have to learn how to get it done in Portuguese! It must have been hard getting up in the front row the first time. Good for you!! Your life is such an adventure right now and I love that you just dive in head first.

  • Nellie @ Brooklyn Active Mama
    June 1, 2015

    I have never! and this sounds so interesting! I think I would do ok in spinning and zumba but everything else? not so good. lol I don’t know if I would jump to the front of the class just yet though, i’d be too intimidated!

  • Holly @ EatGreatBEGreat
    June 1, 2015

    It’s awesome you got out twice with out Cooper this weekend! Oh yeah, I would imagine taking a fitness class in another language is super challenging. I love all your tips though, and I think it’s great that you’re getting out there a doing it!

  • Marielle
    June 1, 2015

    Super impressive that you are taking group classes over there, good job! I love group classes so if I was in a foreign country, I would have to tough it out too. Great tips! šŸ™‚

  • Jessica @ Absurd, She Wrote
    June 1, 2015

    I haven’t done a fitness class in another language, but I’ve done mass in lots of languages- French, Russian, Spanish. Fortunately, mass is pretty universal wherever, so you know what’s going on.

  • Holly
    June 1, 2015

    What a good way to learn and practice an unfamiliar language! Take a fitness class and get a two-fer: a workout and a language lesson! You have given me impetus to work on my Portuguese by learning to count to 10, the words for left and right and some body parts. My directionality is so off that I would be a clown in a high impact workout class given in another language!

  • Nicole @ Foodie Loves Fitness
    June 3, 2015

    I think that taking a class you’re familiar with is a great tip, because sometimes when I take a totally new class (in English!) I feel totally lost and as if the teacher is speaking another language anyways hahaaa kudos to you for getting out there and not being too intimidated by the language barrier!

  • Sara
    June 10, 2015

    Great tips, Britt! Glad you’re settling into life in Sao Paolo!

    I do a spin class in Argentina, and I have two more tips to add:

    1) Let the instructor know you’re language-challenged. A lot of times it is obvious immediately, but if you let them know, they’ll often repeat (or speak more slowly!) if they see you’re having a rough go of it.

    2) Cultural norms can be waaaay different. In Argentina, it’s not uncommon to have a really unfortunate nickname given to you (ie fatty, baldy, etc). It’s not meant as a mean insult–it’s just a very normal version of lighthearted teasing to them. So, needless to say, I was a little shocked to hear my spin instructor yelling at us, “Go faster, you fatties!” multiple times per class!

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