In this article, I will examine how learning styles affect the way we learn a second language. Before you start reading and thinking “this is boring”, I will tell you why I think this is an important topic. I believe that the way foreign languages are taught in schooling systems (at least the one I have experienced, i.e. the Italian one) is too standardised. We need to make room for individual differences in language learning in order to both make the learning process more enjoyable and improve the learning outcome. We need this now more than ever, considering that speaking a second language (read “English” for all the English nonnative speakers out there) is no longer a luxury but a requirement. As a teacher, I know I have the responsibility of enabling my students to learn as much as they can, and in the way they find it easier (not in the way it is easier for me to teach them!).
Learning styles are divided into seven main categories:
Visual (spatial): you prefer learning through seeing.
Aural (auditory-musical): you learn through listening.
Verbal (linguistic): you learn through using words, both in speech and in writing.
Physical (kinaesthetic): you learn through moving, doing and touching.
Logical (mathematical): you learn through logic, reasoning and systems.
Social (interpersonal): you prefer to learn in groups with other people.
Solitary (intrapersonal): you prefer to work alone and use self-study.
The current trend advises targeting more than one learning style when teaching. Indeed, each learning style uses different parts of the brain. By involving more parts of the brain during learning, we are expected to learn better.
Other factors come into play in language learning styles. Considering cognitive styles, there can be two types of learners:
- Field-independent learners (or analytic learners): they concentrate on details and are sometimes unable to see the “big picture”.
- Field-dependent learners (or global learners): they focus on the global picture and do not care about details, they try to convey the message rather than focus on grammatical correctness.
Finally, personality plays a pivotal role. There are:
- Reflective learners: they tend not to make many mistakes because they think carefully about formulating an accurate message.
- Impulsive learners: they prefer speaking fluently rather than accurately.
What is your preferred learning style? If you are not sure about it, try this test and find it out!