Have you ever asked yourself whether you prefer a certain learning style? If not, it might be worthwhile to examine this concept in order to find out whether you can benefit from it.
You might prefer visual media and are likely to remember new vocabulary using colourful images. You might be an auditory learner who processes information best when hearing it, be it through a lecturer or by reading out loud, or by means of a song from which you learn the lyrics or simply by playing music in the background to create a positive learning environment. As a tactile-kinesthetic learner, you favour a hands-on experience rather than sitting still through lectures and the use of physical objects and role-playing is the easiest way for you to learn. Learning a language, you’re lucky if you belong to the group of verbal learners who get more out of words – speech and writing – and have a fascination for the meaning or sound of words, mnemonics, tongue twisters, rhymes and the like and there are numerous other models like the solitary or social learners who choose self-study or learning in a group, respectively, the detail-oriented analytical or sequential learners and the global learners, who tend to favour the big picture over specifics when learning.
The idea of learning styles became popular in the 1970s but although the conception that individuals differ in how they learn is commonly accepted, there is no evidence that instruction which is tailored to an individual’s preferred learning style produces better outcomes.
What we do know is that the human brain is divided into two hemispheres, left and right, and that language functions such as grammar, vocabulary and literal meaning are typically lateralized to the left hemisphere while the right is responsible for most spatial reasoning and visuospatial processing. Evolutionary speaking, our caveman ancestors used their right side to see and track down their prey during the hunt and their left side to talk about their achievements later around the campfire.
We also know that in order to retain information or have a lasting memory of it, both hemispheres need to be activated and to share their load. As basically everything we learn is processed via language, our visual encounter needs a label before it can be put to any use in the left hemisphere. This is why it is more difficult to remember an abstract word like honesty but comparatively simple to recall a concrete word like apple, which has a strong visual connection. And the stronger the stimulation and the more often this stimulus is being repeated, the more likely it is that the information is fed into our memory instead of being dumped due to cognitive overload.
So when we struggle to learn it is worth to sit back and contemplate why we do remember the words we remember or why we mastered that grammatical feature but keep repeating the same mistake in another area.
Most people seem to learn best through a combination of learning styles or stimulation of all senses. Consequently, it may be time to make use of your smart phone’s voice recorder and listen to the words repeatedly when you get stuck with memorizing your flashcards. Or try to move around while reciting vocabulary, consider acting out the meaning of individual words or simply use gestures to support both hemispheres of your brain. Not only are these strategies useful, they are also fun, and this is what language learning should be about.