When learning a new language, it helps to be self-aware in terms of how you learn best. The vast majority of people are visual learners, but is visual learning the fastest way to learn languages? There are plenty of people who learn best through auditory and kinesthetic means, too.
These are the people who remember things best when presented to them through visible media – perhaps drawn on a board, projected on a screen, flash cards, pictures. Generally, the more they see, the more they remember and form associations with those visual cues.
Auditory learners rely on sounds and speech to comprehend and retain material best. They will thrive in conversational-style classrooms or lectures as they can remember what was said. They also probably have a better shot at accurately reproducing sounds they hear.
These are the people that learn by doing, and in general will retain information better by associating new concepts with distinct motions, or by simply moving while learning. Muscle memory also comes fairly naturally to this contingent.
Visual Language Learning Strategies
One of the easiest ways to begin learning simple nouns is to label household items using the target language. For visual learners, this method repeatedly etches the name of the object into the learner’s vision – and if you’re a visual learner, this will form associations very quickly.
This is an easy way to take many different words and phrases and have them available in a compact form. Be sure to include pictures to increase retention, otherwise, simple words with definitions probably won’t get you too far.
Watching natives speak your target language (in person, on TV) will provide you with the body language and facial expressions that culturally accompany that language. It may also help you nail down the mechanics of difficult sounds, as well as parse sentences in new, fast-sounding languages.
As a visual learner, you will remember much of what is written, especially that which you write. So make the effort to take your own notes, possibly adding pictures when applicable. Trying to spell out words will help you begin to recognize what does and doesn’t look correct, and will help reinforce your retention of key phrases or new vocabulary.
Some languages are amenable to using mnemonic devices or pictorial cues to aid in retention and recall. The famous “boot” structure in Spanish reminds learners how to conjugate categories of verbs in different tenses. Another example are “-ma, -pa, -ta” words, which almost as a rule take a male gender article despite ending in “a”: “el mapa” – the map.
Traps to Avoid
Using a Single Method
One potential pitfall to identifying and understanding the best way that you learn is that you focus so intently on those methods while blatantly or unknowingly ignore other learning opportunities. Prevent the urge to pigeon-hole yourself into one learning method. Remember it is your strength, but not your only strategy.
Too Much at Once
Give a new learning method a try (like labeling household objects), but you don’t need to go overboard. Just as you wouldn’t throw 100 flash cards into a pile and expect to tackle them all at the same time, you should pace yourself with each strategy you undertake. Make sure you cycle your methods so you’re not using a technique as a crutch, reinforcing things you’ve already mastered. Keep a constant set of fresh material, with enough challenging content from before to give a good mix.
Don’t be discouraged if a technique doesn’t work for you even if it is a method that falls under your style. Remember these are strategies and not truths. Be willing to try other tactics and commit to not giving up. Similarly, don’t discount a learning method simply because it falls in a different category. We’re not all one-track minded, and we can’t treat our language learning endeavors as such.
The Real World
Recognize that when you finally reach a level of fluency, you will have a mixture of mastery, and will very likely have used many different learning tactics. Language and culture, like our species, is a compilation of senses, experiences, and feelings. Diversity in the real world is good, and so it should be in your quest to learn a foreign language.