Use Their Sensory Channels to Process Language
In the previous two articles on learning styles, we looked
at how the mind perceives and processes language. In this article, we
will cover the sensory channels (ears, eyes, hands) through which the
language materials are received (and transmitted), as well as various
physical factors such as time and place, heating and lighting, etc. which
may affect the learner's desire to study.
The Sensory Channels
Language is received and transmitted primarily through the sensory channels
(ears, eyes, hands). Learners often show a preference for one of these
Which of the following statements are true of you?
- When asked to do an assignment in class, I prefer written instructions
rather than oral ones.
- I remember more about a subject by listening than through reading
- I enjoy making things with my hands.
- I enjoy looking at and deciphering graphs, charts and diagrams.
- I prefer to have an oral explanation of diagrams and maps rather than
simply reading them and working out for myself.
- I like to learn something new by actually trying it out with my hands
rather than by reading about it.
- I try to remember something by picturing it in my mind.
- I did better in High School when listening to lectures and/or tapes
instead of reading books.
- I can't sit too long at a study desk -- I have to get up and walk
- I like to obtain information on interesting subjects by reading relevant
- When someone gives me directions to a place, I prefer them to do it
orally rather than draw a sketch map.
- When I see a new household gadget, I like to pick it up straightaway
and play with it.
- When playing the party game which requires remembering the names of
20 objects on a tray, I always get a high score.
- I'm good at remembering people's names, even if they only tell me
- I can remember new vocabulary better when I actually hold the object
in my hands.
When learning a language, the ears, eyes and hands are
all actively involved. Some learners prefer using one sensory channel
over the others, while some students prefer using a mixture of all three
channels. Students with greater learning-style flexibility are also greater
achievers as they are able to process information in whatever way it is
With regard to the above questionnaire, if you checked
off questions 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, you have a strong preference for using
the visual mode; if you checked off questions 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, you prefer
using the auditory mode; if you checked off questions 3, 6, 9, 12, 15,
you prefer using your hands when learning. It is important to again stress
that you probably do not simply use one mode but a combination of sensory
channels, with one being stronger than the others.
The problem for you may be that the teaching method your
teacher uses may not major on your preferred sense-mode (e.g. she likes
giving lots of dictation). However, it is important to remember that becoming
competent in a foreign language requires listening comprehension skills
as well as reading skills. You need to be willing to use your ears more
than your eyes to develop listening comprehension, and your eyes more
than your ears to learn how to read. No matter what your preferred sense
is, language educators believe that the best learning environment is one
in which all the senses are involved. It seems that the more different
associations we have with an item we are storing in our memory, the easier
it is to retrieve.
How do these 3 types of learners
differ in the way they learn the language? What different learning styles
do they have?
Visual learners learn better when they can read or see the information.
However, it is important to note that there are two sorts of visual learners:
- those who prefer using the written form of the language to learn.
- those who prefer using pictures, charts and diagrams to learn.
These two learning types both use the eyes, but the first
uses more of an analytical technique while the second has more of a global
preference (see Analytical vs. Global). Many of us learn in school to
write everything down and so we come to rely on writing to aid memory.
The problem for learners with a strongly visual preference is that they
feel they just can't remember anything unless it is written down. However,
it is vital for them to bear in mind that the language skills they are
aiming for are mainly verbal -- not written ones -- and that they must
develop and come to rely on the auditory mode in order to learn to understand
what people are saying.
Auditory learners learn better when the information primarily comes through
the ears. But as with visual learners, it is important to note that there
are two sorts of auditory learners:
- those who are more comfortable processing input directly through lectures,
tapes and films.
- those who are more comfortable processing input when they are able
to talk about it, for instance with the teacher or in small groups.
These two learning types both use the ears: the first
uses more of an analytical technique while the second learner type demonstrates
more of a relational preference (see Analytical vs. Relational). Auditory
learners have a tremendous advantage when learning to communicate verbally
in Chinese as they don't need to rely on the written form of the word!
HANDS-ON (touch & physical
What learning strategies will aid these three types?
These types of learners learn best through total physical involvement
with the learning environment, whether through handling objects or going
on field trips. They prefer language learning activities that involve
action. The problem for them is that most language learning classrooms
major on auditory and visual skills -- often leaving the learner who has
a strong 'hands-on' preference feeling frustrated and being branded as
a 'poor learner'.
- Write your own vocabulary cards (flash cards) -- the Chinese on one
side and the English definition and sentences examples on the reverse
- When learning new vocabulary, copy it across to your own notebook
which has been divided up into topic areas. Re-writing helps recall.
- When hearing a new word, try picturing the object in your head with
the Chinese word next to it.
- Input the new vocabulary into your computer and use it for review.
- In order to strengthen your listening skills, when learning the dialogues
and new vocabulary, first try using both textbook and cassette tape
at the same time; then just listening to the tape; or alternatively,
ask a friend to read out the new vocabulary and you give them the Chinese
- Visual learners can be frustrated when the teacher says, "Close
the textbook and repeat after me". If your teacher insists on this
method, ensure that you have first read it through several times.
- Use color to highlight the main ideas in your textbook.
- Most visual learners learn better by themselves.
- Recite out loud the new vocabulary, dialogues and drills. Try taping
them, then playing them back. Also, when going through your vocabulary
cards (flash cards), read the Chinese and English out aloud.
- Try studying with a classmate so you can discuss the lesson content
- Also listen to radio & TV programs where the content is at your
present level of Chinese (e.g. programs teaching English to Chinese
beginners which will therefore use simple Chinese as well as simple
- When you go out walking or shopping, have a topic ready for chatting
with those whom you meet in the street.
- Find a Chinese friend and exchange English for Chinese.
HANDS-ON (touch & physical movement)
A knowledge of one's own learning preferences is important
for enjoying language learning and hence maintaining motivation.