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Learning Styles in Adult Language Learning: Reality or Myth?

Learning a new language as an adult presents its unique set of challenges. “How do I find the time? Will I ever sound like a native speaker? And which learning style suits me best?” are questions many learners ponder in this pursuit.

This article explores the fascinating world of learning styles, considering in particular whether they are grounded in reality or merely educational myths.

As we unravel different perspectives, you’ll gain insights to enrich your language-learning experience, whether you’re just starting out or brushing up on existing skills. Join us as we debunk common misconceptions, offer practical tips for individualised learning, and demonstrate how Cactus’s tailored approach aligns with various preferences.

Introduction to learning styles in language learning

The term “learning styles” has intrigued educators and learners alike for decades. Though not the originator of the concept, Neil Fleming brought it into prominence with his VARK questionnaire in the 1980s. It identified four primary styles:

  • Visual: Learning through visual aids like images and diagrams.
  • Aural: Learning by listening to lectures or audio.
  • Read/Write: Learning through reading and writing activities.
  • Kinesthetic: Learning via physical activities and hands-on experiences.

This framework has since become integral to discussions about Western educational methodologies, including language learning.

However, the question arises: How useful are these categorisations in actual learning scenarios, particularly in the context of informal education?

So, let’s peel back the layers of this widely accepted concept and consider recent criticisms.

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Debunking the myth: Are learning styles real or just a fad?

Recent research challenges the widely held belief that everyone has a dominant learning style and is more effective when adhering to it.

Husmann’s 2018 study is a case in point. Her findings suggest that strict adherence to a specific learning style does not necessarily enhance undergraduate students’ academic aptitude or influence their performance in a course.

This viewpoint is echoed by Macedonia’s 2015 study on learning styles and vocabulary acquisition in second-language learning. This research argues that the brain learns words through multiple sensory experiences, not confined to one style like visual or auditory, recommending a multi-sensory approach for more effective vocabulary acquisition instead.

But this does not mean there is no value in understanding how we process information. While academics continue to debate the validity of learning styles, there’s still merit in reflecting on your personal learning preferences.

Think of it this way: by acknowledging that these preferences are dynamic, context-specific, and constantly evolving, you can adopt a more practical approach to language learning. It’s about finding what works best for you in different scenarios and making the necessary changes when the learning experience doesn’t feel right.

Learning Styles

Individual learning preferences and language learning

So, how do individual learning preferences and language learning intersect? Simply put, these styles are all about how we absorb, remember, and use information. They’re not set in stone; instead, they blend how we think, feel, and physically approach learning.

Take visual learners, for instance. They often grasp new vocabulary better with images or by sketching out visual mind maps. On the other hand, those who learn better through listening might find podcasts in the language or conversations with native speakers more effective.

But your personal learning preferences aren’t fixed for all time. They can shift based on what you’re studying, the level of complexity of the subject matter, and your emotional and physical state at the time of learning.

Try out different techniques at different times, and you’ll see how your preferences might change. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Tips for visual and spatial learning

Visual and spatial learning involves processing information through visual elements like images or infographics. To try this, you can:

  • Use Images and Diagrams: Images, diagrams, charts, and maps can help you understand language properties, sentence structures, or new vocabulary by associating them with visual cues.
  • Employ Flashcards: Flashcards with a word on one side and its meaning or a related image on the other can reinforce language learning, especially with new terms and phrases.

Tips for auditory learning

Auditory learning means absorbing information through listening – lectures, conversations, or podcasts, for example. This includes:

  • Listening to Language: Listening to podcasts, music, or dialogues in the language being learned can boost remembrance. The rhythm and pronunciation of words and phrases will help you to recognize sounds and cadences.
  • Repeat Aloud: Auditory learning improves language acquisition through repetition. Repeating vocabulary, phrases, or sentences aloud can enhance your pronunciation and fluency.

Tips for kinesthetic and tactile learning

Kinesthetic and tactile learning encompasses learning through movement and touch. Here, we explore techniques that engage physical activity and hands-on experiences:

  • Engage in Role Play: Kinesthetic learners can benefit from activities like role play. It helps them express words and phrases physically, enhancing the language-learning process.
  • Incorporate Writing: Writing sentences, drawing images related to the new vocabulary or storyboarding narratives can help kinesthetic learners remember vocabulary and grammar rules.

Tips for verbal learning

Verbal learning focuses on using spoken and written words for learning, in short, linguistic intelligence. Use these tips to give verbal learning a go:

  • Language Interaction: Verbal learners can benefit from regular discussions in the target language. Engaging in group discussions improves language flow and the understanding of subtle nuances.
  • Reading and Reciting: Regularly reading texts aloud or reciting poetry in the new language can improve verbal learners’ understanding of sentence structure, rhythm, and intonation.

How Cactus adapts to various learning styles

Cactus expertly aligns its teaching methods with the diverse needs of adult language learners. Utilising full immersion and the communicative approach, Cactus’s courses actively engage students in the language they are learning.

This method is especially effective for auditory and verbal learners, as it emphasises listening and speaking in real-life contexts. Visual learners benefit from the use of images, videos, and infographics, which teachers incorporate to convey meaning and provide context. Kinesthetic learners, meanwhile, thrive in this immersive environment, where active participation and interaction are essential.

Whether through our online offers or face-to-face courses in cities like London, Brighton, Manchester, and Edinburgh, learners experience a dynamic and engaging educational journey.

Want to hear, feel, and see it for yourself? Explore our course offers and discover how Cactus can tailor your learning experience to suit your individual needs.

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Dr. Anneke Schmidt is the founder of Skill & Care Content Solutions. She is an experienced content writer, editor, and educator with a demonstrated history of working in the research industry. Her main specialisms are Social Sciences and Education, with a particular focus on e-learning and professional development.

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