What's Your Learning Style?

Developing a Strategy for Study

Qué sabemos
Merely writing things down can be useful for helping some people learn as it combines visual and kinesthetic elements of learning. Photo by Red Educativa de Itagüí; licensed via Creative Commons.

What's your learning style? Knowing and adjusting your studying accordingly could pay off for learning Spanish — and other subjects as well.

All of us learn in our unique ways, but in general there are three common types of learning styles:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic

As is probably obvious, visual learners can learn best when they see what they're trying to learn, and auditory learners do best when they can listen.

Kinesthetic learners learn best by doing or when learning involves their hands or other parts of their body.

Everybody uses all of these methods at one time or another, but most of us find some methods easier than others. And you may have noticed the different struggles that some students have had in school. An auditory student may do quite well listening to plain lectures, while a visual student appreciates having explanations put on the blackboard or displayed on an overhead projector.

I've seen the differences in learning styles in my own home. I'm a strong visual learner, and as such I found learning to converse in Spanish much more difficult than learning to read, write or learn grammar. I also appreciate diagrams and charts as an aid in learning and am a naturally good speller simply because words spelled wrong look wrong.

My wife, on the other hand, is a strong auditory learner. She has been able to pick up some Spanish simply by listening to my conversations, a feat that seems almost incomprehensible to me.

She's one of those people who knows the words to a song after the first time she hears it, and that auditory aptitude has served her well in picking up foreign languages. In college she would spend hours listening to German tapes, and years later native German speakers were surprised to find out she had never visited their country.

Kinesthetic learners can have the most difficulty learning, because schools as they are traditionally operated don't take them into account as much as they do auditory and visual learners, especially past elementary age. I have a son who is a kinesthetic learner, and it showed from an early age. Even when beginning to read he would prefer to do so while walking around the house, as if the motion of walking would somehow help him read. And more than any other child I've seen, during the age of primary school he was prone to act out stories with his toys, something his siblings never did.

What does all this have to do with learning Spanish? By finding out your preferred learning style, you can tailor your studies to emphasize what works best:

  • Visual learners more often do well using books, and flashcards for rote memorization. If they also don't have a strong auditory aptitude, they may struggle with developing conversation skills. One way they can boost their listening skills is to use computer programs or video devices to provide subtitles or other visual clues to what they're hearing.
  • Auditory learners may have the easiest time developing conversation skills. They benefit more than other types of learners by listening to instructional tapes, watching Spanish TV, listening to Spanish radio, or listening to Spanish music.
  • Kinesthetic learners often need to use some sort of physical activity to help themselves learn. For many, merely taking notes during class or from a textbook can help. They also do well to speak their lessons out loud, or use software that encourages interactivity.
Remember, no one learning style is inherently better than another; each has advantages and drawbacks, depending on what you're trying to learn. By adapting what you want to know to your learning style, you can make learning easier and more enjoyable. To: Spanish Language Guide

Thanks for your newsletter. I was reading your article on styles of learning. I originally had Spanish classes in high school where I was taught things like ¿Te gusta la biblioteca? and it gave me some vocabulary, but as far as speaking Spanish it was worthless.

Then many years later, borne from my desire to learn, I got a Spanish/English dictionary, started watching Spanish TV every day, started listening to Spanish radio.

I started learning about the great Latin music artists and culture. I used translation websites, downloaded lyrics from bilingual artists like Enrique Iglesias, Gloria Estefan. I talked with my friends who are fluent, bought People magazine in Spanish. In short my method is total immersion.

In a year and a half native Spanish speakers say my Spanish is very good. I'm still striving for fluency, but I'm at a good level of understanding. Of all I do find the television especially beneficial because you both see and hear. With a new television you can have the words on the screen, which really helps as well.

I think what really helps me is the daily hearing of Spanish and using my mind to think in Spanish. Maybe this is helpful to your readers. I know many people take clases to learn; I'm not against clases but I think doing everything makes learning go much, faster and actually experiencing how Spanish is used.

Jim Anderson

To: Spanish Language Guide

Just wanted to add my dos centavos (OK, maybe un poquito más) to Jim Anderson's comments about immersion. He's exactly right! Like him, I studied Spanish in high school, did very well but never used it for anything. Six years ago I decided to start taking classes, figuring that a second language wouldn't exactly hurt my job prospects.

Some of my immersion techniques:

  • During my daily three hours of commuting, I listen to Spanish radio, listen to música Latina (a good two-thirds of my CDs are Latin), listen to Spanish books-on-tape, and any other audio material I can get my hands on. I'd watch Spanish-language TV except that what passes for a cable company around here doesn't offer any Spanish channels.
  • If there's a book I want to read, I try to find it in Spanish. This task has become considerably easier in the last couple of years, as publishers and booksellers in the U.S. have finally awakened to the potential of the Spanish-speaking market.
  • I think in Spanish as much as I can, and when I talk to myself, it's in Spanish. (The latter is usually advisable only while alone. One more item for the commute.)
  • I translate, both for work and for fun.
  • I participate with some like-minded people in a series of "group tutoring" sessions conducted by a Chilean lady several times a year, for six weeks at a time, with the sessions being held at a group member's home. She brings some study material and assigns some homework, but it's mainly an opportunity to get together and practice our Spanish in a guided way. Much more fun than formal classes, especially since you seldom get to study with a margarita in your hand in a class!
  • I've downloaded and installed the Spanish-language interface for Internet Explorer and for any other program I use that has it available. At home and at work. Good practice, and remarkably effective in discouraging the monolinguals from "borrowing" my computer ;ɚ)
What has it gotten me after six years? Well, I just got back from Mexico, delivering a week of highly technical training in Spanish to native speakers. Two more such trips are coming up before the end of the year. It's like getting paid to take a week-long in-country intensive immersion course.

Bottom line: in perhaps no other field of study is the axiom "What you get out of it depends on what you put into it" as true as it is in learning a foreign language. To anyone hesitant to invest the effort, I say "¡Ándale!"

Mike Moran