Maybe you are looking for a way to tell your Spanish teacher that you are a “visual learner” and cannot understand half of what your classmates are saying in class. Or that sitting down for 90 minutes makes your legs and your brain quite numb. If you could just get up and move around for a change, play a game, or tell some stories. Do something!
Teachers, linguists, and scientists all know that each person has a different learning style. As an educator, I agree with the VARK model, which identifies four different types of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. The students who likes to move around or role play is a kinesthetic learner.
Why is this important? Three reasons: First, understanding the way your brain absorbs knowledge is a precursor to learning. It helps you conceptualize how you engage with, retain, and understand information. Secondly, the way you learn also determines how you should be taught, serving as an important piece of information for your teacher. Lastly, it shows you where some of your weaknesses lie. For example, if you are a visual learner, it is possible your listening skills are not up to par, in which case you should also explore how auditory learners interact with new information and apply that to your own learning model.
Learning a language does not come easy to all. Isn’t it time you learn how you learn?
If you like visuals such as images, videos, slides, posters, colors, chart, maps, and textbooks with pictures and diagrams on them, you are probably a visual learner. These types of learners do well when they have a teacher who is very engaging and picturesque. If they attend a lecture, for example, they enjoy speakers who make gestures. Recommendations: grab the best seat in class; watch movies and videos; draw images of the vocabulary; mark your textbook by highlighting words and replacing important vocabulary with symbols or drawings; read comic books in Spanish; watch cartoons. These last two will bring out the child in you.
If you are an auditory learner, you enjoy listening, talking, and asking questions. Even though listening comprehension is the hardest part of language learning, these learners prefer to listen, repeat, recite, and converse. Recommendations: attend class!; read out loud; record lessons; tape yourself conversing with someone; listen to podcasts at various speed levels; use mechanical exercises involving repetitions for verb conjugation in various tenses; take classes that are conversation-focused; ask a classmate for their notes (yours might not be as good!); be that person who always narrates what happened in class to the classmate who missed class; go out of your way to chat with natives; when you listen, always make it a point to rephrase what the person just said; ask plenty of questions. Remember, you learn by listening. So listen up!
Perhaps you enjoy interacting with texts and writing. You like making lists and taking notes. Maybe you are a writer by trade. If so, you are probably a reading and writing learner. Recommendations: buy books in the target language; if you are a beginner or have children, buy children’s books in the target language; take copious in-class notes; read your notes out loud; read everything out loud, including the instructions in your grammar book; write out vocabulary, verbs, and stories; when conversing with a classmate, make notes of what he tells you; make lists; get a dictionary app; use handouts; go to the library (you love libraries!); ask your teacher to give you writing assignments or create your own based on what you are learning at the moment; when watching movies, put the subtitles in the target language; turn everything into words.
While being on your feet and playing can feel intimidating to some students, kinesthetic learners learn by doing. They like practical exercises and using all their senses. They prefer to be on their feet, move around, and interact. Role-playing is an excellent option for teachers to engage kinesthetic learners. Recommendations: place post-its around your home to help you remember the vocabulary you are trying to learn; role play with a classmate, friend or child; when in class, ask the teacher for games and activities; always ask your teacher for relevant, real-life examples; ask your classmates for their notes (they might catch details you missed); go on a “field trip” (to an authentic Italian restaurant, a Latin nightclub, a foreign film festival); put your learning into practice by vacationing at a country that speaks the language you wish to learn; take an immersion course abroad.
Identify which type of learner you are. Which one resonates with you the most? If your teacher has been working with you for a while, ask them what they consider your learning style to be. Once you’ve identified what type of learner you are, determine your strengths and weaknesses. Incorporate your strengths into your curriculum, especially if you have a private instructor. Do incorporate your weaknesses as well. If there is something that makes you particularly uneasy, that’s something you should do! For example: You are concerned about your accent and hate talking in public. Take the auditory learner’s approach and face it head on. Whatever you do, do not obsess over your learning style and think that is the only way for you to learn. “There are more things between heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” said Hamlet. I agree (let’s not discuss how things turned out for Hamlet!).
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Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.
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