How to Determine Your Learning Style and Apply It to Language Learning
It happens to a lot of us.
You discover a foreign language that sounds fascinating and melodic. You think how it would be super useful and cool if you learned it. So you start to gather books and resources, comb through YouTube for tutorials, and watch movies, trying to understand bits and pieces. Finally, you start to learn letters, words, numbers, and so on.
But soon, you realize that learning a foreign language is not as easy as you thought, not to mention time-consuming.
Those videos you found on YouTube aren’t so helpful. Grammar structure is weird and complicated. All the vocabulary is overwhelming.
You start to feel like you’ve been at it for a while and haven’t made much progress. You find that little voice in your head saying, “This simply isn’t my thing.” Eventually, you give up.
What went wrong?
Well, before you declare yourself incompetent, I may have a possible answer for you. Maybe you simply didn’t adapt your learning style to language learning.
What am I talking about?
Studies have shown that there are three main learning styles:
One or two of these learning styles are usually dominant. But, it doesn’t mean that you only learn, for example, visually.
You may prefer one learning style for a specific task, but learn best from a combination of styles for other tasks.
Different things can influence which learning style you prefer. Some of the most surprising factors are gender, age, social status, and even nationality.
People from different cultures prefer different language learning styles — for example, Asians tend to be highly visual, while Hispanics are mostly auditory.
How can this help you learn a language?
For starters, try to figure out your individual learning style, and then get the most out of it.
Let’s break down each style. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in one (or more) of them.
VISUAL — Do you easily find your way around using maps and rarely get lost? I envy you for that.
Visual learners have a way with the written language, such as reading and writing tasks. Very often, they have a need to write down instructions.
They prefer to learn through pictures, charts, videos, demonstrations, graphs, etc. For these learners, any type of learning without visual backup can be confusing.
If you often say things like, “I can’t quite picture it,” or “Let’s draw a diagram or map,” you are probably a visual learner.
AUDITORY — Do you know people who learned to speak a language just from hearing it? I do.
If you fancy expressing yourself verbally, or solving problems by talking about them, you are probably an auditory learner.
You often talk to yourself and read out loud. Conversations and discussions are a piece of cake for you, and you enjoy completing tasks this way.
On the other hand, reading and writing tasks are a bit challenging for you.
KINESTHETIC — Not too many people are kinesthetic learners.
If you belong to this rare group, you most likely prefer active participation in lectures and learning through experience. You need stimulation or movement to keep you interested and focused.
Remember the last time you had to read a text and then answer the questions. Did you scan the material first, and then focus on the details?
Do you typically use color highlighters to make things more clear? Do you enjoy working with collages and flashcards? In that case, this is your learning style.
Knowing your learning style can help you a lot when it comes to learning a language. You can use tools that work best for your type and then apply them to learning grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and sentence structure.
Here are the best tools for each learning style, and tips for using them when learning a language:
Infographics are an excellent combination of pictures and text — a double gain for visual learners.
2.Rely on pictures
There are some great online resources that use pictures: illustrated books, comics, photographs, etc.
For example, Visual Dictionary Online is full of colored diagrams and pictures. Best of all, most of these resources are free.
Look for movies, cartoons, series, video chats, online courses, and so on. Watch them with subtitles or without; it’s up to you.
Find some funny videos on YouTube, and laugh while you learn. Also, many platforms offer free courses. Check out ALISON, Coursera and Open Culture.
4.Take color-coded notes
Highlight words or phrases that you want to stand out, and organize by theme, importance, subject or whatever suits you.
Design your own presentations about grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation exercises or whatever else you like.
Pick your favorite colors, use flashy pictures, and have fun.
6.Complete reading tasks
If you ever took the TOEFL or IELTS, then you know what I’m talking about. Do you remember those scary tasks where you read the text and then answered the questions?
Well, these are excellent practice for visual language learners.
Use your imagination and apply a lot of shiny colors. You don’t have to be Picasso; just do it in your own way.
8.Use mind maps
Mind maps can help you organize and connect your knowledge. They’re similar to drawing, only you have a main concept and every other concept is related to it somehow.
For example, you can pick food vocabulary as a main concept and then spread out your mind map with food names you want to learn.
Structure and organize information with headings, subheadings and bullet points.
Every time you attend a lecture or class, instead of just writing down notes, try to record what the teacher is saying (be sure to ask for permission first).
This way, you can listen to it over and over again.
This is an old trick for remembering complicated definitions and new vocabulary.
Here is an example for the word ARITHMETIC: A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream.
Take your notes, book or electronic device and read the text out loud. For audio learners, this is a helpful and efficient way of learning.
4.Discuss and debate
Join a local study group or Facebook group and get involved in discussions in the language you are learning.
You’ll also build relationships and a support network, and maybe make a few new friends along the way.
5.Listen to music
Music is the greatest communication in the world. Even if people don’t understand the language that you’re singing in, they still know good music when they hear it, said Lou Rawls, and I completely agree.
Music is not only a unique way to learn a certain language, but also a way to explore that language’s culture.
So pick the songs that sound interesting to you and associate them with ideas and concepts.
6.Listen to audiobooks
What’s so great about audiobooks? The fact that you can pick your favorite book and listen how it sounds in different and exotic languages.
You can find a lot of websites with free or paid audiobooks, but my advice to you is to find out the name of the book you want and then search for it on YouTube.
This is always free.
Put them above your desk, so you can always see them. For example, write a list of vocabulary you are learning, and next to it, a list of what each word means.
2.Practice pronunciation in front of the mirror
The best way to do this is to watch your lip and tongue movements. This way, you will remember better and can track your progress.
3.Listen to the language while walking or exercising
Kinesthetic learners learn better when moving.
So the next time you take a long walk or go for a run, put on your headphones and listen to music, an audiobook, a podcast, or something else in the language you’re learning.
Connect your thoughts with hand movements.
5.Play a role
Get yourself physically involved.
Find a group of fellow learners, organize a play in a foreign language, pick a role, practice and get on the stage.
You can create your own or find some online — either way, flashcards are an excellent source for learning vocabulary.
Make sure to use bright and attention-grabbing colors. On one side, write the new word; on the other side, its definition.
7.Put together puzzles
Puzzles can be more than just a fun hobby — they can help you learn and improve your language skills.
Practice vocabulary, sentence patterns, grammar structure and more.
You can do them on paper or on your mobile, laptop or tablet.
Why is it important to find your language learning style?
Because it will make your life easier.
You’ll learn languages easier and faster, and enjoy the process more — it won’t feel painful or like a chore.
But don’t limit yourself to one or two tools, or even just one learning style. Experiment, try out different things, and mix and match until you find what suits you the best.
And, most important, have fun.