Monday, March 10, 2008

Is your language learning program right for your learning style?

I've been reading Diana Beaver's nlp for lazy learning. One of the book's central points is that if we've been raised with a certain mindset, we think learning is something you have to work at. And yet, we learn most easily when we are between theta - mentally relaxed and receptive - and alpha - slightly more alert and creative, but still calm - states, and when we are learning in an environment in harmony with the way we take in information. The bottom line is that the most effective learning is easy.

In the past few years, some people have pushed TPR - total physical response - as the best way to learn, because you're totally engaged with the material. Others have suggested the value of all audio learning, so that you can focus on the sounds of a language and repeating them authentically. Some people offer computer programs where you get the information on screen and through headphones. Other people just like to flip through flashcards.

Which is best?

Wrong question.

Which is best for you?

If you're a kinesthetic learner, TPR is great. But if you're a visual learner, all that movement will keep you from concentrating on what is written on the board or in your book. And if you're an auditory learner, it might have you trying to keep track of too many other things, when what you really need to do is just listen. Often times, language learners - including yours truly - get focused on what works for them, and make well-meaning recommendations for others. Or we take someone else's recommendation because we haven't found a program that meets our needs for the language we're learning. In both cases, it's important to be aware of how you learn - of what feels right.

So if you're stalled in your learning, or just feel like you could be doing more, think back to a really great class you had or a really great program you used, and ask yourself - what were the elements that really made learning in this environment/with this program work for me? This will not only help you pick out the best program for you. It will also give you clues about the kind of self-study materials to create that will help you most. If you're an inveterate doodler, you might be a visual person who needs sketches with key sentences, not just neat and tidy lists in your notebook. If you're an auditory learner, making cassettes and listening to them may help you, even though it bores other people to tears. And if you're a kinesthetic learner, taking the time to visualize acting out the use of language may help you. The possibilities are as endless as you are unique. So to borrow from an old time expression, when it comes to language learning, if it feels good, do it!

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