Christian Lingua

Different Ways of Learning a New Language

Sometimes we talk about “students” as if they are a more or less homogeneous group and that there should be a set of learning and teaching methods that would work well for all of them

Sometimes we talk about “students” as if they are a more or less homogeneous group and that there should be a set of learning and teaching methods that would work well for all of them. However, learners vary considerably, and there is no reason for us to believe that they should all go about language learning in the same way. In the language teaching profession, this point is often made when talking about learning styles. One contrasting set of learning styles that has received much attention has to do with learners’ sensory preferences, with learners categorized into four groups:

  • Visual learners: those who learn best by seeing
  • Auditory learners: those who learn best by hearing
  • Kinesthetic learners: those who learn best by moving and doing things
  • Tactile learners: those who learn best through feeling and touching

Another set of learning-style categories has to do with learners’ personality types, and some learning-style contrasts that have been suggested include the following distinctions:

  • Extroverted versus introverted learners: This one is fairly self-explanatory.
  • Thinking versus feeling learners: This is a distinction between learners who are more cognitively oriented and those who are more affectively oriented. For example, in a discussion, thinking-oriented students would generally be more interested in the factual content of the discussion, while feeling-oriented learners would be more attentive to the feelings and emotional needs of others in the discussion.
  • Closure-oriented and judging learners versus open and perceiving learners: The former would strive for clarity, results, and closure; the latter are more comfortable with ambiguity for longer periods and feel less internal pressure to resolve questions any time soon (for more categories, see Oxford, 2001, p. 360–362).

Recent research calls into question the notion that individual learners have distinct and relatively stable learning styles (e.g., Willingham, Highes, & Dobolyi, 2015). However, we definitely should assume that language learners differ from each other in a variety of ways, and that these differences can have a significant impact on what works for any given student when it comes to language learning. Obviously, it is not possible for each student to have a teacher and classroom situation tailored precisely to his or her preferred language learning approaches; this can’t happen even in small classes, let alone large ones. However, teachers can do two important things to accommodate individual differences between students. The first is to use a reasonably broad and rich variety of teaching techniques, so that each learner has a greater chance of experiencing a method that works well for him or her. The second involves encouraging learners to explore different approaches to language learning so that each learner can find study and practice methods that work for him or her. This is one of the most important reasons any consideration of language teaching needs to start with a look at the learners.

This article is provided by Christian Lingua.