We can learn languages in many different ways. Some people prefer to read and study, while others get excited by direct tasks. When in practice, we choose different strategies, like talking, chatting, listening, thinking and so on. Then there are those who learn languages from nothing but media. I couldn’t imagine myself doing that. It would take a lot of effort to pay off for me. So each person has a unique language learner type. If you want to learn efficiently, with as little struggle as possible, you have to know your own.
I will describe language learner type in two different aspects. The aspect of style and of attitude. Let’s discuss each of them in turn.
The style of language learning
Dozens of psychologists, neurologists, philosophers, theorists, linguists and other specialists distinguish a great variety of learning styles. Some of them are more fit to describe language learning than anything else, so let’s focus on those. For example, Rebecca L. Oxford describes 6 styles of foreign language acquisition.
- Self-monitoring, paying attention to one’s progress
- Self-encouraging, reducing anxiety
- Asking questions, being culturally aware and paying attention to the context
- Grouping, memorising, imagining, associating
- Reasoning, analysing, summarising in an analytical way.
- Guessing meanings from context, using synonyms and compensating the unknown with the known
Can you recognise your own prefered style from this list? If you don’t, you have much to learn about yourself. Either way, these styles don’t affect the content you should use to learn effectively. On the other hand, Neil Fleming’s VARK model is a theory that might be applied practically.
There are 4 styles according to this model. All people perform differently in each of them.
- Visual learning
- Auditory learning
- Read/write learning
- Kinesthetic learning
Learners who prefer visual learning can easily use the information they gain from visual sources, instead of written text. People with auditory learning style are the best at retaining the information they hear. Read/write is pretty self-explanatory. Written text is the key in their learning strategies. Kinesthetic learners prefer experience, practice, trying new things and exploring all the possibilities.
Practice suggestions for each style
In this case, understanding your strengths and weaknesses can really make the difference. That’s why I’ve made a summed-up list of practices for each language learner type. Try everything and you will find your style out:
Visual: Watch movies and tv shows. Follow the pages of people, brands, groups, etc. who provide visual content in your target language. Draw charts and visual representations of the various aspects of language, its words or anything you’re currently dealing with.
Auditory: Listen to whatever you can get your hands on. Movies, commercials, audio books, podcasts, interviews and so on. Practising with other people would be even better. You would get to practice your own speaking skills and listen to others using this language, too!
Read/write: Other than the obvious, you can focus on chatting with other people who are natives or learners, just like you.
Kinesthetic: Go out and meet people. Or meet them online. Practice the language with them. Try local language learning groups. You can consider courses as well, but don’t expect much from them.
This list doesn’t mean you have to restrict yourself to a few practices only. Doing most, if not all of them, is absolutely necessary to your progress. Both as a learner in general and as a speaker of your target language. You might just want to do some of them more than the others.
Language learner attitude
Then there’s something that I call attitude. There can be two different attitudes and you already know them both. The difference is that we use them in different proportions. Much like with styles, some people prefer one attitude over the other.
The first attitude is structural. The second one is content-oriented.
Language learner type that is structural sees the language analytically. Such person likes to search for the structure in every aspect of language. Even in the cases where no visible structure can be found. Such person likes to make links and learn words by connecting them to other words in their mind. Also, structural people like to focus on grammar and various rules that make the language constructive.
The 5th learning style of Oxford, as mentioned above, describes this attitude the best.
On the other hand, a content-oriented person doesn’t care about the structure that much. What really matters here is what message the language delivers, instead of how it does that. So people on this side of the spectrum memorise, imagine and focus on the context to understand how language works. They don’t like learning grammar and, frankly, aren’t very good at it. They try to expose themselves to as much content as possible. After a while, they somehow know the structure of the language by intuition. They know it without knowing actual rules that make the language the way it is.
The 4th and 6th learning styles of Oxford, as mentioned above, describes this attitude the best.
Structural people aren’t doomed to sit in language classes (which is often a counterproductive way to learn a language). They obviously need constant practice as well as any other language learner type. However, this doesn’t mean they have to drop their structural thinking. Practice can be structured as well. The key is to make out the structure from the experience that we get when we perform the practical tasks.
For example, recognise how different sentences are formed. What are the differences in the structure and what difference in the meaning does it make? This is usually something that we understand from practice as well as we do from theory. If not better. Because, in many cases, grammar makes no distinction among various nuances. Specifically, some words, such as interjections and others, require social or situational context to be understandable. So immerse yourself into the language and make the structure out by yourself.
As a side note, Abraham, Vann and other cognitive scientists have pointed out an interesting fact:
Learners who utilise their learning strategies in a consistent and structured way get better results than those who learn chaotically and with no structure in their methods. So content-oriented learners shouldn’t discard structure entirely.
Practice suggestions for content-oriented attitude
Speaking of content-oriented learning, the best practice is to expose yourself to as much content as possible. However, it shouldn’t be mechanical. You have to actively participate in what you’re doing. Watching a movie in a foreign language won’t make you speak it if you don’t focus on the language itself. In that case, even 100 movies won’t get you any further. So keep your mind straight. And, instead of doing things randomly, think about your practice methods and structure them according to your learning style.
Therefore, each language learner type has to keep all the possibilities in mind. Whatever your learning style and attitude is, you can try different strategies. I can guarantee that not all of them will work the same for you. As a start, I’d suggest you try Bliu Bliu, where pretty much any learner can find what suits them best.
Best of luck in your language learning!