Sunday, April 24, 2011

Preparing yourself for success in language learning - Learning styles: a major key to learning

Success in learning a new language has to be carefully thought out and planned.

If you dive into it without thinking about it, your language learning endeavor has a strong possibility of falling to the wayside to join the ranks of started diets and paid-for gym memberships. An often overlooked, yet vital aspect, of success in learning new information is understanding one’s personal learning style.

Learning styles (sometimes also called strategies) refer to the way an individual processes new information. There is no one-size-fits-all way of learning a language. Most of us utilize several learning strategies when we encounter new information.

Volumes have been written about this subject, but for our purposes, we’ll look at some of the key aspects. As you read about the learning styles and strategies mentioned here, take a moment to think back about the things you have learned over your lifetime. Try to remember how you best processed the information. Then imagine you are about to learn something new and difficult and slowly mull over each of the following learning styles -- which one describes you? Note your response and refer to it in the subsequent articles in this series about learning languages.

The five dimensions of learning styles we will consider for this article are:

1. Perceptual – how the brain receives information

2. Processing – how the brain processes information

3. Environmental – how the surroundings affect learning

4. Physical – how the body feels while learning

5. Emotional – how the mind feels while learning

The perceptual dimensions of learning are visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile. We generally use all of them when we are learning something new, but most adult learners have a favorite.

Visual learners need to see information before they can remember it. They notice visual details and can easily discriminate between words that look alike (yine/yeni). A visual learner usually says, “I need to see it before I can remember it.” or “Can you write that down for me?” If you are a visual learner, you may want to make sure you carry a pad and paper around with you at all times. Or you may want to take pictures of the language you see around you.

Auditory learners recall information much better after they have listened to it a few times. They can easily discriminate between words that sound similar (hesap/kesap). An auditory learner might record lectures and listen to them again on an mp3 player to better understand new information. If you find you recall information better after listening to it, consider buying a recording device much like journalists use for recording interviews. They can be found at Teknosa for about TL 100. You may also do better with an auditory method of learning such as the Pimsleur method.

Kinesthetic and tactile learners usually need to write down what they are learning a few times before it sticks in their mind. They also like to have physical contact with the information. Kinesthetic/tactile learners usually say, “I have to write it down before I can remember it.” They also do very well with flash cards, which they make themselves, and board games.

Processing dimensions of learning refer to left/right brain orientation. While many of us live somewhere in the middle, for learning new and difficult information we tend to favor one side over the other.

Left-brained learners love details. They want to know the rules, spelling and sounds. They love lists of words and conjugations. They prefer to study difficult words before reading a text and like to continuously monitor their progress. Left-brained learners also tend to want to know the methodology of a technique or approach for a learning task before undertaking it.

Right-brained learners tend to be spontaneous and creative; they are happy to dive right into a learning activity and get to the details later. They are comfortable with learning whole phrases such as “yoldayım” (I’m on my way) without being bothered with the grammatical rules that make up the utterance. Right-brained learners also do well with learning through songs and poems.

Environmental dimensions pertain to the set up of the learning environment in terms of lighting, sound, temperature and furnishings that ideally should match your unique learning style. Some people like a little background music when they study, for example, while others need absolute silence.

Physical dimensions refer to when and how a person best processes information. For example, you may be a morning person and therefore would be better studying in the morning. Additionally, some people like to sit in a soft comfy chair to study, while others need to sit at a desk with a straight-back chair. Also, a restless person might want to build in frequent breaks in the study process.

Emotional dimensions refer to each learner’s motivation. How self-motivated a person is can play a large role in the final outcome of learning a new language. If you think of learning Turkish as a chore or an impossible task, your brain will give you fight or flight chemicals. This may cause you to try to fight through the learning or to find ways to avoid studying Turkish. In either case, you will not achieve optimal learning. However, if you approach learning a new language as fun or interesting, you will receive the brain chemistry to match those thoughts – your brain will be fully engaged.

The next article in this series will be about how you can apply your personal learning styles to creating a study space and a practical schedule.


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