What Neuroscience has to do with learning?
The answer is straightfoward … everything! Any activity (and learning is an intellectual activity, as well as it is a core requirement for any activity we want to perform, even if the final outcome doesn’t seem to be) requires the use of our brain in order for us to be able to do so.
No matter what we want to learn, we have to introduce that knowledge into our consciousness (meaning brain) so we can have access to it whenever we need it. As in a computer, we have to install the proper “software” (knowledge) before we enter our data (whatever we can imagine we wanto to understand) to be analyzed by our hardware (brain).
Eventhough there is a lot to be revealed and understood about how we are wired in our brains and how it works in deepth (let’s leave this to the researchers), recent advances in the neuroscience field has shed light into some important features that we can use to our benefit, improving our brain efficiency (if you will) just by realizing what is going on in there.
Among the several different areas of impact of this knowledge, we can use it to improve our ability to learn anything we want in a more efficient way. This includes learning a second language, improve your vocabulary, and reduce your accent in the language you are willing to fluently speak.
How does the brain perceive the world?
We are not going to discuss here the structure of the brain with its’ compartments (and related activities), as well we are not going to study the neurons’ structure and biochemistry in transmitting the information throughout the brain. These information go beyond the scope of the present purpose which is improve your ability to learn more efficiently a new langauge.
Putting it in simple words, the brain is constrained inside the skull and wired throughout the body in an extremely precise manner that we can perceive the external world and react to it properly, in order to survive.
The perception of the world happens inside our brain, so all the external stimulli has to be transferred into the brain in order for us to actually understand what is going on and, if needed, react to it. The external stimulli are perceived from our surrounding through our five senses:
Some might argue that we have a sixth sense, but we will not discuss this here since this issue will not contribute to our purpose of learning anything we want more efficiently.
Physically speaking, it is through these five senses that we are able to perceive the world we live in. The interpretation of these external stimulli by our brain is a different chapter which we will not discuss here either.
Through these “channels” towards the brain, all the external stimulli are transferred to the brain, converted into chemical compounds, and analyzed by different compartments within this “hardware”.
With this been said, the next question arises …
How can you efficiently improve your language skills using Neuroscience?
Here is where it gets interesting. Let’s apply these information and use it to improve our learning skills (in this case, use it to learn a second language more efficiently).
All five channels (senses) can be used to input information into the brain, but for learning a second language, among these five senses, only three can be used, either alone or combined with each other:
Personnel (teachers, researchers, phycologist, among others) working with learning abilities (or disabilities) have long noticed that different people have different ways of learning new information.
Neuroscience has joined this group and brought new insights of how the brain actually retains information, and way different people present different approaches when learning these new information. Filtering all available knowledge at the state-of-the-art, here is where we stand today.
People can be classified into three different learning ability groups, depending on the channel to the brain they mainly use to input information there:
1 – Kinetics: the main path to the brain is the touch. Although people in this group can learn from seeing and from hearing, they can more efficiently retain information if they actually touch the subject. In this case, meaning writing it down either using a computer, on a piece of paper or whatever they have in hands;
2 – Visual: the main path to the brain is the sight. Although they can still learn from hearing and writing the new information down, they can more effectively retain the information just by seeing it;
3 – Acustic: the main path to the brain is the sound. These people can still learn from seeing the new information or writing it down, but for them, the most efficient way to learn something new is by hearing it.
All three approaches can (and actually are) used to input new information into the brain. However, for some genetic predisposition, not all brains are wired the same way and knowing this is extremelly important in learning anything, specially a new language.
We all fall into one of these categories, and the important point here is that no category is more efficient than the other … all of them are efficient. The core question here is … “in which category do I fall into?”. This is the most important point here, and the only person whom can accurately answer this question is yourself.
Let’s put this in perspective to be clear, explaining this with a daily example.
Situation 1: suppose you are a visual learner. In this case, the most effective way of you being able to learn (and retain) a new information is by visualization. That is the way you were wired inside your brain. You need to see the words your are learning, otherwise your ability to imprint that information inside your brain will not be efficient.
If you just hear the words you are learning, it will probabaly be stored in the short-term memory part of your brain (we are not going to touch this in deepth here), and you will soon lose this information. Writing it down on a piece of paper will definetly help because you will be able to SEE it!
Situation 2: suppose you are a kinectic learner (by the way … I fall into this category). Knowing this, the most efficient way of learning a new language is by writing it down. You might not even need to keep the notes, all you need to translate that word into a movement of writing or just highlighting the word, but you have to move.
You might be able to retain some of it by visualization or by using the acustic approach, but it will not be as efficient in recalling the information as if you wrote it down.
You get the picture here. Whenever learning a new language (or any new skill), you MUST know how your brain is wired in order to make the most out of it. Before learning anything new, you must learn how you work inside your brain.
These knowledge provided by the neuroscience insights of how the brain perceives the surrounding world will have a huge impact on the educational systems used in our schools, with the ability to unleash since early ages the learning abilities of the new generations.
For now, let’s use it to improve your learning abilities in a different language and reduce your accent as well.
By the way, are you a kinectic, a visual or an acustic learner?