If you think back to your time learning a language in school, you can probably remember tons of activities based on learning by sight: reading passages, doing worksheets, writing conjugation tables. You’ll probably also remember some audio exercises that trained your listening comprehension skills. Now, learning through visual and auditory input are both valid and useful methods in isolation, but what if we told you that you actually learn better when you stimulate several senses at once? Here’s how it works.
Why Do You Learn Better With More Stimulation?
What it all boils down to is neural connections. When you learn something by using one of your senses — whether it’s sight, hearing, smell, touch or taste — neural pathways in the area of the brain related to that sense are created, activated and strengthened. Then, when you go to recall this information later, your brain reactivates those neural connections to pull it back into your conscious awareness.
When you activate multiple sensory channels while learning, your brain not only builds new pathways along these channels, but also more connections between these pathways, making the memory retrieval easier and more efficient!
How Can You Stimulate Multiple Senses While Learning?
Now, you might be thinking, “OK, good to know, but how do I put this into practice?” Well, we’ve got some tips you can use to make the most of multi-sensory learning. Let’s say you’re working on learning French, so you decide to read an article or two for practice. Reading is a learning method we are all familiar with from school and is a great way to activate your visual sensory channel. On the other hand, you might be more of an auditory learner and find listening to French podcasts an enjoyable way of building up your vocabulary.
Both reading and listening are effective ways to train your language skills, but activating only one of these sensory channels at a time doesn’t take full advantage of your brain’s learning power! Here are some ways you can combine both auditory and visual stimuli in one activity:
- While listening to music in your target language, pull up the lyrics and follow along. You can do this in your head or out loud, giving yourself some singing practice at the same time!
- Watching a foreign language film? Don’t even think about putting on the English subtitles! Instead, set the audio and subtitles to your target language.
- Are you a podcast fiend? Lots of language learning podcasts have accompanying transcripts so you can read while you listen.
- Use Babbel! Our lessons present information using a mix of visual and auditory input. We combine pictures, text, and audio exercises spoken by native speakers.
You’ll see that by simultaneously activating multiple sensory channels, the information you learn will be much easier to recall!
What About The Less-Utilized Senses?
So, now you have some ideas of how to learn more efficiently by using your senses of sight and hearing at the same time, but what about the other senses? How could you incorporate your sense of taste into language learning?
Easy! Try making a meal, and while doing so, practice the names of the different ingredients while tasting them. This could be an excellent activity to get your sense of smell involved as well. As you may be aware, smell is the sense that is most closely connected to memory. By practicing the words, tasting the food, and smelling the aromas of cooking, you’ll create a connection between the flavor, aroma and the concepts you’re learning, and of course, you’ll end up with a delicious meal. What’s not to like about that?
With the sense of touch, we’ll take a bit of a broader definition and group it together with movement. Learning with touch and movement is often called kinesthetic or tactile learning, and an advantage of learning in this way is that the information is not only ingrained in your mind, but also in your body! Try this little experiment to see how effective tactile learning can be: Think of your childhood phone number or your high school locker combination. I bet you can remember them easily, even if you haven’t needed these numbers for years. Why is that? Because you paired the information with a repetitive physical task, over and over again, thus strengthening the neural connections in your brain.
How can you apply this to language learning? One thing I like to do to help myself remember vocabulary is to repeat the words in my head while I’m doing some kind of physical activity, like walking or riding my bike. That way, different channels are being activated while information is received, making the pathways and connections stronger and the information easier to remember later. Give it a try the next time you find yourself doing some exercise, such as swimming, jogging, or even weight-lifting!
Now you should have a better idea of how to combine input from your different sense to boost your brain’s learning capacity. You can transform learning from some dull, painful activity that you dread just thinking about, into something engaging and enjoyable! Give some of these tips a try, and you’ll see just how much more effective your language learning becomes.